NEWS - Archive March 2017

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Headlines 31 March, 2017

Italy: Rare happy ending in Mediterranean migrant drama

Most members of a group of 146 migrants reported missing, feared dead, this week in the Mediterranean were rescued and safely brought to Italy, it emerged on Thursday.

31/3/2017- In a rare piece of good news in Europe's deadly migrant crisis, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said a Gambian survivor who had thought all his fellow passengers on a packed rubber dinghy had perished had been mistaken. In fact, 140 of them were rescued at the same time as he was plucked from the water, suffering from severe dehydration and hypothermia. One body was recovered and five people remain unaccounted for. In his semi-conscious state after hours clutching a petrol container, the Gambian survivor did not realise the others had been transferred to an Italian coastguard boat while he was rushed by a Spanish navy vessel to hospital on the Italian island of Lampedusa.

The confusion was cleared up when some of the group of 140 survivors were shown a picture of the young Gambian on Thursday. "They recognised him, told us his name. Some of his friends burst into tears when they saw him safe and sound," IOM spokesman Flavio di Giacomo told AFP. According to an IOM count, 590 migrants have died trying to make the Libya-Italy crossing on people traffickers' boats so far this year. Some 24,200 people have been rescued and registered at Italian ports, according to the Interior Ministry. Both figures are sharply up on the same period last year, despite mounting efforts to stop the flow at source in Libya.


Interpol Issues Arrest Notices for Wanted Serbian Radicals

Interpol has issued ‘red notices’ for the arrest of three members of the nationalist Serbian Radical Party who are wanted by the UN’s war crimes tribunal for contempt of court.

31/3/2017- Interpol has issued red notices – the closest thing to an international arrest warrant – for Serbian Radical Party members Petar Jojic, Jovo Ostojic and Vjerica Radeta, the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague said on Friday. They are accused of contempt of court for interfering with witnesses during the trial of their leader, Vojislav Seselj, who was acquitted of war crimes charges last year, although the case has now gone to appeal. “Petar Jojic, Jovo Ostojic and Vjerica Radeta have been charged with contempt of court for allegedly having threatened, intimidated, offered bribes to, or otherwise interfered with two witnesses in the trial againstVojislav Seselj and a related contempt case against him,” the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia said in a statement.

The warrants came into force last Friday, the statement said. But Serbia again refused to extradite them to The Hague, citing a ruling last year by the Belgrade Higher Court, which said that the Serbian authorities can only arrest people wanted by the Hague Tribunal who are charged with war crimes, genocide or crimes against humanity. “We have to respect the [Belgrade] court’s decision, no matter whether we like it or not,” Serbian deputy prime minister Rasim Ljajic told media on Tuesday. “We can’t behave as we like if we want to respect democratic principles,” said Ljajic, who is also the head of Serbia’s council for cooperation with the Hague Tribunal. The Serbian government has also cited security reasons for not arresting the three Radicals, suggesting that detaining them would cause unrest in the country.

Radeta is an MP in the Serbian parliament, as is her leader Seselj, who is also running for the country’s presidency in Sunday’s elections. Radeta took to Twitter on Tuesday to mock the Interpol announcement. “As Seselj will become president in the second round [of the elections], he will pardon me and Jojic, so the Interpol red notices will not matter,” she said. The UN court issued international arrest warrants for Jojic, Ostojic and Radeta last October. “The Tribunal has also repeatedly raised the matter with the UN Security Council and UN General Assembly,” its statement said. “Most recently, in a letter dated 1 March 2017, [Tribunal] president [Carmel] Agius called upon the UN Security Council to ensure accountability, to prevent impunity, and to take the measures necessary to secure Serbia’s compliance with the Tribunal’s orders, consistent with its obligations, and appealed to member states to secure the arrest and transfer of the accused,” it added.

All three wanted Radicals have said they will not go to The Hague to face the charges voluntarily. Seselj has also refused to return to The Hague since he was released for cancer treatment in 2014, and was not in court for the verdict in his trial.
© Balkan Insight


Islamophobia Thriving In Europe, New Report Says

Scholars reported discrimination, abuse and misleading rhetoric in 27 countries.

31/3/2017- A new study on Islamophobia in 27 European countries offers evidence of how the phenomenon is thriving, threatening ideals of diversity and democracy across the continent and inspiring acts of anti-Muslim violence. “Muslims are seen as the enemy ‘within,’” editors Enes Bayrakli and Farid Hafez write. “Thus, physical attacks and political restrictions can often be carried out and even defended in an atmosphere of wide distrust and enmity. Islamophobia is by no means confined to the working poor or the middle class, who have been misinformed about Islam and Muslims. It is especially true for the so-called educated elite. Discriminating policies like the ban of the hijab for certain professions, the ban of the niqab in public, bans of minarets and other laws restricting Muslims’ freedom of religion speak volumes.” The European Islamophobia Report 2016, set to be launched Friday, features work from 31 scholars.

This is the second edition of the report. In introducing the concept in 2016, the editors noted that most member countries of the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe, or OCSE, did not collect official information on hate crimes against Muslims. They said they wanted to explore discrimination in matters beyond physical and verbal abuse and immigration policy, looking at the ways people suffer because of their association with Islam in overlooked areas like employment, school curricula and cyberspace. “Criticism of Muslims or of the Islamic religion is not necessarily Islamophobic. Islamophobia is about a dominant group of people aiming at seizing, stabilising and widening their power by means of defining a scapegoat Æ real or invented Æ and excluding this scapegoat from the resources/rights/definition of a constructed ‘we,’” they argue. “We think it is important for civil society to understand that Islamophobia is a problem of institutional racism. The illusion that Europe is a post-racial society prevents large parts of European societies from recognising the severe challenge of Islamophobia to local societies.”

They say the problem appears to have been more severe in 2016 than in 2015. In Germany, for instance, attacks against recently arrived migrants, many of them refugees coming from predominantly Muslim countries, have increased dramatically, according to local authorities. The interior ministry says more than 3,500 such attacks occurred in 2016, compared with 1,031 in 2015. “Islamophobia has become the most commonplace expression of racist prejudice in Germany … there is now considerable evidence that a growing proportion of the population in Germany not only holds these views, but is prepared to translate them into multiple forms of political action,” Aleksandra Lewicki, a sociologist at the Free University of Berlin, wrote. She noted that media outlets appeared far less likely to cover anti-migrant violence than allegations of violence by migrants.

Skepticism toward Muslims has become such a widely held sentiment that top political figures in Albania, a rare Muslim-majority society in the middle of the continent, see promoting Islamophobia as essential to proving their place in Europe, the Free University’s Besnik Sinani argued. Aurel Plasari, the head of Albania’s National Library, has called conversion by Albanians to Islam under Ottoman rule a “betrayal of Jesus Christ,” while other elites have spoken of the conversions as an unfortunate historical accident and called to restrict the religious liberties of devout Muslims for the sake of security, according to Sinani.

In many countries, Muslim women faced particular victimization Æ being denied jobs, being called names and being forced to justify different interpretations of the religion, like the strict and sexist brand practiced in Saudi Arabia. At the same time, concern for women was consistently cited to justify anti-Muslim sentiment. Hafez, a University of Salzburg researcher currently teaching at the University of California-Berkeley, noted in his chapter on Austria that members of the far-right FPO party there use messages like “hands off our women.” In the U.S., President Donald Trump’s attempt to institutionalize Islamophobia employs similar tactics: His ban on entry to the U.S. of people from seven Muslim-majority countries controversially suggested that citizens of those nations were particularly responsible for violence against women and girls in America.

In an email to HuffPost, Hafez highlighted a recent European Court of Justice ruling that said a Belgian employer was permitted to fire an employee because she wore a headscarf. Some of the countries had not yet seen major spikes in Islamophobia, but the experts warned that such hatred could grow. In Ireland, media talk of Muslims centered on the debunked “clash of civilizations” theory that sees Islam and the West as entirely separate from each other and incompatible, and on the idea that Irish Muslims might be undermining society from within, James Carr of the University of Limerick reported. Alexandros Sakellariou, who teaches sociology at the Hellenic Open University in Athens, said influential Greek Orthodox Church figures continued to deny that Islam could have any place in Greek life.

Players hoping to weaken Europe want to keep the fear going. Kremlin disinformation campaigns that support far-right figures in the continent demonize refugees and present supposed security threats from Muslims as a product of weak European policies, Alina Polyakova of the Atlantic Council think tank told HuffPost. Some governments are trying to push back against misrepresentations and institutional barriers for Muslims, the researchers wrote. But there has not yet been a general change in the trend. The report was sponsored by SETA, a think tank based in Ankara, Turkey, and seen as close to the government there. The SETA headquarters is the venue for the Friday launch. While many European politicians welcomed the 2015 edition, hosting presentations at the European Parliament and Commission last year, some viewed the project as a Turkish effort to embarrass Europe, with which it has an increasingly difficult relationship.

Hafez told HuffPost he expects another European Parliament presentation for the report this year, in the early summer. “Already last year with the refugee crisis and the growing Islamophobic populism by European politicians, especially in Eastern Europe, the report really spoke to the time,” he wrote. “Obviously, the relevance has not declined after the Trump election and I fear it won’t become less relevant. But in a time when the public is made to believe that the far-right danger in Austria and the Netherlands is overcome [because of recent election results] and we only have to fear the AfD in Germany and the French Front National, it is the task of this report [to show] that Islamophobia is larger than the far-right and that we are facing many forms of institutionalized Islamophobia in Europe.”
© The Huffington Post


Greece: Golden Dawn party's headquarters attacked with sledgehammers

Ultra-nationalists say they will not be discouraged by violence

31/3/2017- Young men wielding sledgehammers have attacked the headquarters of Greece's far-right Golden Dawn party. Police said several people were detained for questioning over the assault during the Friday morning rush hour in Athens. Youths smashed the glass front of a shop inside the party's offices, which sit on a busy road, and threw red paint at the entrance of the building. In a statement, Golden Dawn said the attack by “a paramilitary group” armed with sledgehammers, batons, helmets and firebombs lasted for at least five minutes. The group said none of its members were injured and claimed morale was high, adding: “If they think that these murderous methods will discourage champions and campaigners who have experienced killings, persecution and opposition, they are deeply mistaken. “Neither bullets, or prisons, or anything will bend the nationalists!”

Golden Dawn became Greece's third-largest political party in the 2015 general elections, with a rise in popular support during the country's financial crisis. Party offices have been targeted in previous bomb attacks, while two Golden Dawn members were shot dead in 2013 in an attack claimed by a far-left militant group. Some analysts classify the group as neo-Nazi and fascist because of the praise of Nazi leaders and use of symbols associated with the far right, although the leadership rejects the labels. Its manifesto states the “ultimate goal of forming a new society and a new type of man” and claims that the “superior” race of Greeks “needs to be strengthened”. Golden Dawn is known for its opposition to the arrival of refugees in Greece, with members linked to violent protests and attacks on camps for asylum seekers, and the party recently expressed its admiration for Donald Trump.
© The Independent


European rights court condemns Greece over migrant 'forced labor'

30/3/2017- Europe's top human rights court accused Greece on Thursday of failing to protect migrant workers who had been subject to "forced labor" and shot at by security guards when they protested over unpaid wages. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ordered Athens to pay 16,000 euros each to the workers whose case had triggered outrage across the country. Greek authorities, it said, had been fully aware of the circumstances. Foremen at a strawberry farm in the southwestern Greek town of Manolada opened fire on dozens of migrant workers protesting over unpaid wages in 2013. More than twenty migrants, mostly Bangladeshi, were wounded. A year later, a Greek court acquitted their employers of human trafficking ordering them to pay 43 euros to each of the 35 workers who were recognized as victims. It also gave one armed guard and one employer suspended sentences in a ruling that prompted angry protests from unions and rights groups.

The migrant workers had been forced to work 12-hour days under the supervision of armed guards and went on strike on three occasions for back pay. Their employers warned them they would get paid only if they continued to work, the ECHR said. They lived in makeshift huts without toilets or running water. "The facts at issue, and particularly the applicants' working conditions, showed clearly that they amounted to human trafficking and forced labor," the ECHR said. Greek authorities, it said, had failed to protect the migrants from the treatment they received, although they were aware of the situation in the strawberry plantations. The court ruled that Greece had to pay those who had appeared in Greek courts 16,000 euros each.

Greece is a gateway for migrants trying to enter the European Union through its porous sea and land borders. The country is still struggling to emerge from a debt crisis despite signing up to three international bailouts. Unemployment currently stands at about 24 percent. Most of the migrants who find work in Greece are employed illegally. More than 40 percent of the country's undocumented workers are migrants, reports during the debt crisis have shown.
© Reuters


Information warfare: Is Russia really interfering in European states?

Russia has been accused of trying to interfere in the US presidential election, through hacked Democrat emails and social media. And in a big year of European elections, political leaders in France, Germany and elsewhere are looking over their shoulders too.

31/3/2017- Across the continent the hand of the Russian state has been perceived in an array of cyber attacks on government and state institutions, in the phenomenon of "fake news" and disinformation, and in the targeted funding of opposition groups. So how real is the threat and what form does it take? And is an explanation to be found in the words of Russia's chief of the general staff, Gen Valery Gerasimov, who wrote in a military newspaper in 2013 that "the very rules of war have changed"?

What's so new about information warfare?
Attempting to control information has long been part of the weaponry of many powerful states. But Russia's concerted effort to cultivate techniques of information warfare and non-military intervention over recent years is something new, says Keir Giles of the Conflict Studies Research Centre. "At various stages in the first and second Chechen wars, the war with Georgia in 2008, Russia found it was not able to influence global opinion or the opinion of its adversaries at an operational or strategic level, and made significant changes to its information warfare apparatus as a result," he says. "In the Georgia war, they found that to influence world public opinion and to properly exploit the connectivity of the internet they needed to start a massive recruitment campaign to bring in linguists, journalists, anybody who could talk directly to populations in foreign countries en masse".

What techniques are available?
Numerous cyber attacks in Europe have been blamed on Russian-linked groups - many of them spectacular.

In 2015 France's TV5Monde broadcaster was taken off air and its systems nearly entirely destroyed
The same year Russia's APT28 hacking group was accused of a massive data hack of deputies in Germany's lower house of parliament involving the loss of 16 gigabytes of data. Germany's head of domestic intelligence has since spoken of a "hybrid" Russian threat to the September 2017 elections in which Angela Merkel is seeking a fourth term in office.
Another cyber attack, on Bulgaria in October 2016, was described by its president as the heaviest and most intense to be conducted in south-eastern Europe.

These types of attack date back 10 years, when Estonia, a cyber pioneer and former Soviet state, was hit by a massive denial-of-service attack rendering websites inaccessible with a barrage of requests. The potential power of attacking a country's internet infrastructure suddenly became clear, with an Estonian defence spokesman comparing the attacks to those launched against the US on 11 September 2001. Hacking is not just an issue in cyber-space, it can have enormous consequences far beyond. An attack on a  Ukrainian power plant in 2015 led to days of blackout
Read more: Bears with keyboards - Russian hackers snoop on West

Senior Russian political figures have long cultivated relationships with nationalist and often anti-EU parties in Europe.
In France, Marine Le Pen's far-right National Front received a €9m loan from a Russian bank in 2014 (then £7m; $11m). On 24 March, with the French election only a month away
and a chance of victory in the race, she met President Putin during a trip to Moscow.
In February, the leader of right-wing nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD), Frauke Petry, held talks in Moscow with MPs close to President Putin and with Russian ultranationalists.
And in Austria, the far-right Freedom Party of Austria denied claims it had received money from Moscow after signing a co-operation agreement with Mr Putin's United Russia party.
Apparently it is not just the right. In France and Germany, leading far-left groups also have key links to the Russian state, according to this study by the Atlantic Council.

There is nothing new about disinformation - intentionally spreading false facts. Now there is "fake news" too - false or misleading reporting often originating from little-known fringe websites that claim they are providing an alternative to the "lying" mainstream media. The US presidential election was notoriously hit by it and many European countries have been too. When Russian forces invaded Crimea in 2014, the leaders that took over from Ukraine's deposed leader were painted as fascists, justifying their intervention. The story contained enough of a kernel of truth to be persuasive. The leadership was neither a "fascist junta" nor "completely fascist-free", as the BBC's David Stern said at the time. Weeks before an Italian referendum that brought down Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in December 2016, Kremlin-funded TV Russia Today broadcast a rally on Facebook Live from Rome's Piazza del Populo. "Protests against Italian PM hit Rome," it announced to hundreds of thousands of viewers. In reality, it was a rally backing Mr Renzi.

In Germany, a 13-year-old girl, "Lisa", told police she had been raped by people of "Mediterranean appearance" in January 2016. Russian state TV seized on the story, reporting it intensively and triggering anti-migrant protests against Chancellor Angela Merkel. It was later established the story was false, and Berlin hit out at Moscow for making political capital out of the case. Pressing Moscow's case are Russian-backed news organisations such as RT and Sputnik. and, on social media, an army of "internet trolls". The EU is so worried that it has established a unit of experts explicitly tasked with tackling "Russia's ongoing disinformation campaigns".

Can we be sure Russia is behind all this?
Russia denies it. President Vladimir Putin says US intelligence claims of interference are absurd and irresponsible. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has even accused the CIA of masquerading as Russian hackers. But, according to Keir Giles, Russia "is becoming less and less interested in covering its tracks". Its interference in the US election was more or less overt, he argues, and it was happy to permit dozens of Western journalists to visit a notorious St Petersburg troll farm. That is, he says, "partly because of a sense of urgency that the next conflict is coming". An EU official told the BBC that disinformation campaigns were not always top-down. "It's not like every single piece of it is orchestrated by the Kremlin," the official said. "It's about creating this ecosystem that works in significant parts almost independently", with actors working for financial motives such as clicks or funding from Russian organisations.

In the case of the "Lisa" rape case in Germany, the story originated on a small blog, not in Moscow. But it is telling, says the official, that journalists behind the propaganda are decorated with state medals - including 300 journalists covering Russia's annexation of Crimea and 60 pushing a pro-Kremlin narrative on Syria.

What is Russia trying to achieve?
For some critics, the answer is simply power. President Putin and his allies have created "an image of the external enemy from the West… this demand was dormant, Putin awakened it," says Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Moscow Center. "His goal is to be a world leader, but on his own terms." Others are more nuanced.

For Maria Lipman, while anti-Western sentiment in Russia has been nurtured by the state, the mindset of a fortress under siege "is not necessarily unfounded". She points to the sanctions imposed by the US and EU "couched in the language of punishing Russia to hurt its economy". Many chart the decline of Russian relations with Europe from Ukraine's Orange Revolution in 2004-5, seen in Moscow as "regime change", through Russia's gas wars with Ukraine, its 2008 conflict with Georgia to the crisis and conflict in Ukraine. It was the 2014 annexation of Crimea that led to the sanctions. For Gonzalo Pozo Martin of Stockholm University, the pain of those sanctions has been felt most intensely in Russia and has coincided with falling oil prices. He argues that Russia's "cosying up" to the hard right in Europe is a form of leverage over the sanctions and deadlock in eastern Ukraine. But he also believes the Kremlin is investing long term in a more amenable, less Atlanticist EU. Not only would that boost Russian influence, it "might afford Russia a freer hand over its former-Soviet neighbours", he suggests.
© BBC News.


EU's Timmermans: Putin supports far-right to divide Europe

30/3/2017- Vladimir Putin is cozying up to the far-right to divide Europe, the European Commission's Vice President Frans Timmermans said Thursday, a week after France's Marine Le Pen met with the Russian leader. Le Pen, France's far-right presidential candidate who has called for closer ties with Putin, met him in Moscow last week just a month before the first round of the election there, with the Russian president stressing that the Kremlin does not meddle in her country's politics. But Russia has offered praise for rightwing and eurosceptic politicians in Europe -- with Putin cementing closer ties with Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban, for example, in Budapest last month. "There is a reason why Mr Putin supports the extreme right all across Europe," Timmermans told lawmakers in Spain. "Because he knows the extreme right makes us weak, he knows the extreme right divides us. "And a divided Europe means that Putin is the boss," he said.

He said he did not want to enter into conflict with the Russian leader, but thought he was "trying to create disunity by inviting Mrs Le Pen to the Kremlin and supporting all sort of extreme right parties across Europe." Russia has been accused of interfering in the US election in an effort to sway results in President Donald Trump's favour, prompting a probe by American authorities. Last month an aide to staunchly pro-Europe French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron accused Russia of trying to derail his campaign by spreading false rumours through state media. But according to a transcript issued by the Kremlin after Putin met Le Pen, he told her "we by no means want to influence the current events but we reserve the right to communicate with all representatives of all political forces of the country." German Chancellor Angela Merkel has this month met with French Socialist presidential candidate Benoit Hamon and Macron, as well as conservative candidate Francois Fillon earlier in January. Still, it is rare for Putin to meet a foreign presidential candidate so close to an election.


The Real Russian Threat to Central Eastern Europe

Neo-fascism. Russian disinformation. State-sponsored ethno-nationalism. And all around unwillingness to do much about any of it — yet.

30/3/2017- The European People’s Party adopted a resolution at its annual congress in Malta on Wednesday. The subject? “Russian disinformation undermining Western democracy.” It’s the latest chapter in a push to get the European Union to take seriously what is becoming a growing threat to liberal democracy in the world’s biggest democratic club. And it comes just as lawmakers in the United States grapple with the fallout of Russia’s disinformation campaign during the 2016 election, widely believed to have been meant to help tip the scales in favor of Donald Trump. Last week, members of the EPP signed an open letter along with government officials and other experts calling on EU foreign minister Federica Mogherini to “Please start taking the Russian disinformation threat seriously!” They asked her to call out Russia “and its proxies” by name as the source of a lot of disinformation and fake news that is helping push Europeans away from the liberal notions that underpinned the creation of the union in the first place. They also asked for her to unleash the very creature — the EEAS East STRATCOM Team — built to counter that threat in the first place.

Russian disinformation, the letter says, is “aimed at destabilising our societies, meddling in our elections and referendums, misleading our political leaders and breaking up the EU unity by supporting those who want to destroy it.” Mogherini did not respond by pledging to increase resources (though she did send out a tweet featuring a cartoon on the importance of remaining a union). Nor did she acknowledge what the letter’s signatories seemed to want her to say: that Russian disinformation, as well as the separate but related issues of illiberalism and political extremism, is increasingly becoming a big problem in Europe, and specifically in the “Visegrad Four” countries in Central and Eastern Europe, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia. And far from trying to tackle it — as Finland, for example, has done with some success — those governments seem to be in many cases willing accomplices of a campaign that ultimately makes it easier to cement their own rise to power.

The poster child for touting the Kremlin’s line, of course, is Hungary, where the ruling party, Fidesz, switched to an openly pro-Russia stance in 2010. In 2014, Prime Minister Viktor Orban famously called for the creation of an “illiberal” state, and has been vocal in his support for and emulation of Russia. Nearby, a similar story plays out. The Czech Republic may have established the Center Against Terrorism and Hybrid Threats to counter disinformation, but those efforts have been specifically criticized by Czech President Milos Zeman, who has openly called for an end to sanctions on Russia. And while Slovakia’s President Andrej Kiska has criticized Russia’s disinformation campaign, the president of the Slovak police corps signed an anti-immigrant letter riddled, as the former prime minister put it, with “absurdities, confused facts and illogical pseudo-connections.”

And Russian disinformation seeps into the media, as well. While some is simply perpetuated by sympathetic conspiracy theorists, in some cases there are direct links to Russia. For example, in Slovakia, the editors of the extreme far-right (some say conspiracy-focused) magazine Zem a vek met with the Russian ambassador to Slovakia to ask for support. Later, editors from Zem a vek, among others, travelled to Moscow to discuss the establishment of a new media project, including a TV channel (that channel is now defunct). This trip came the same year that Zem a vek called for Slovakia’s withdrawal from NATO. Slovak state media outlet TASR announced a “content sharing” deal with Kremlin-backed outlet Sputnik — and even though TASR pulled out on Thursday after the deal came under media scrutiny, the fact it was made in the first place suggests that the Kremlin line is not viewed as suspiciously as it once was.

Even the one Visegrad country that hasn’t taken a friendly line toward Russia — Poland — is still busy copying the Kremlin playbook. Under the Law and Justice Party, Poland has lurched away from liberalism, essentially taking over the constitutional tribunal, flirting with media restrictions, and souring relations with Brussels. Throughout, the government has disseminated dubious information to undermine public confidence in Brussels. Disinformation in Poland doesn’t have to come from the Kremlin, in other words, to undermine cohesion within Europe. “The Polish government, for instance, repeatedly lies about the number of Ukrainian refugees Poland has supposedly accepted,” said Mateo Mazzini, a Warsaw native studying in London. “They do so to have an excuse not to accept refugees from the Middle East, but these statements are just blatant lies. Our own, native, Polish lies, though – no need to import them from Moscow.”

Put another way: Poland is pushing what some consider illiberal disinformation on its own, but it’s cribbing from Hungary, which is copycatting Russia. “The true origins of this phenomenon are local,” Maria Snegovaya of Columbia University said — though not exclusively home brewed. “The policies of Fidesz and Law and Justice have a lot in common with Putin’s own policies.” And Poland is following Hungary’s illiberal model perhaps in part because its government knows there won’t be repercussions from the EU. “The message Orban sent to the whole region,” said Peter Kreko, a senior associate of the Budapest-based Political Capital Institute, “is: You can do it” — act illiberally and get away with it.

To be sure, ill feelings toward the European Union among people in Central and Eastern Europe aren’t solely about Russian disinformation, or even about the rise of far-right political parties. The problem is also in part about the European Union and the European project itself. Even EU boosters acknowledge that the former Soviet-bloc countries were brought into the European Union by roping in local elites. Many regular people felt, and still feel, that the EU has done little to engage on issues that matter to them, from immigration to the economic impact of European accession to the realities of employment in an increasingly globalized Eastern Europe. Take the issue of Syrian refugees. “One of the root causes” of risking nationalism and EU-skepticism in Poland, said Karol Zwirello, who lives and works in Gdansk, “was Angela Merkel’s welcoming policy toward illegal migrants. The pressure for EU countries to divide the number of migrants each of them would have to host has caused strong opposition.”

Others struggle to find their views reflected in elitist, mainstream media. “I have this notion that mass media in Slovakia — really, most of them, 90 percent of the coverage you can get is mostly pro-Western or pro-European oriented,” said Peter, who lives and works in Bratislava and asked to be identified only by his first name. “I think it’s not proper representation of Slovak society.” And when they don’t see it in mainstream outlets, Peter said, they turn to the internet, and to social media, and to ever increasingly extremist sites associated with once-fringe political parties that have moved to the mainstream. And even once-mainstream parties could be seen as having gotten more extreme: Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico called journalists critical of him prostitutes, and said Islam has no place in Slovakia before he later deigned to criticize fascism.

Those parties, too, get a boost from Russian disinformation. “Russian influence is stronger on the far right where it’s stronger on the mainstream, most notably in Slovakia and Hungary,” said Kreko. “The second rule that we found — the more extreme you go, the stronger the Russian influence is.” The fascist People’s Party Our Slovakia, which won eight percent of the vote in elections last March, is anti-EU, anti-NATO, pro-Nazi leaders, and pro-Russia (the party papers over the historical contradictions in that stance by pointing to Slovakia and Russia’s shared Slavic roots.) Jobbik, a Hungarian party even further to the right than Orban’s Fidesz, is also openly pro-Kremlin, and introduced a Hungarian version of Russia’s law requiring NGOs that take foreign funding to declare themselves as foreign agents — a policy since pursued not by a fringe party, but by the Hungarian government.

But Russian kindling isn’t even needed to light a far-right fire, with Visegrad countries learning from one another. “Groups such as the National Movement operate and march in public under openly anti-semitic, racist and xenophobic slogans, yet Law and Justice sees no reason for dismantling them,” Mazzini said. Europe’s illiberal turn, and Russia’s role in accelerating it, isn’t irreversible, though it is easier for leaders in the West to push back against a rising illiberal tide than for those in the east already knee-deep. Governments could promote media literacy among the population, get security services involved, and share best practices, said Kacper Rekawek and Daniel Milo of Bratislava’s GLOBSEC Policy Institute in Bratislava. Finland has done much of that to parry Russian attempts at manipulation. And, they said, leaders could craft a new narrative seeking to explain to skeptical populations why liberalism and European values are worth fighting for in the first place.

But what governments have tried so far has been half-hearted. “I don’t see a sincere effort” to sell people anew on Europe, Milo said, “and the old narratives aren’t working anymore.” Rekawek said “it needs to be rebooted.” But that’s not likely to come from leaders in Visegrad countries. Orban, Zeman, and Law and Justice chief Jaroslaw Kaczynski benefit at the polls the more voters are skeptical of western liberalism in general and the EU’s rules in particular. What about leaders in Brussels? They haven’t even been able to take any meaningful action to censure illiberalism in Poland or Hungary, two member states. And Mogherini, Jakub Janda of the European Values Think Tank said, is eager to maintain working relations with Russia to cooperate on Syria — making her wary of naming Russian disinformation as a threat.

Big elections are coming up in France and Germany, the core of the EU — with plenty of momentum for the far-right, anti-EU National Front leader Marine le Pen in France. That’s already got plenty of people in Brussels (and Berlin) nervous that one of the keystones of the 60-year European experiment is about to get hit with a sledgehammer. As if that weren’t enough, as of Wednesday, Brexit is officially underway. That gives the European Union an even bigger and more immediate threat to its shape, unity, and purpose — at the expense, perhaps, of trying to roll back the tide of illiberalism further east. The European Union is understandably trying to grapple with potentially existential threats on its western flank. But perhaps, in doing so, it’s ignoring one that’s already arrived.

© Foreign Policy


Spanish police evict far-right squatters from upscale central Madrid building

Hogar Social’ group set up in 2014 offers shelter and food exclusively to Spaniards

28/3/2017- Police in the Spanish capital have evicted a far-right group from a former palace in the upscale Serrano neighborhood where several people had been squatting since November. Around 6.30am some 50 officers entered the building, at 107 Velázquez street, and ordered the 14 or so individuals sleeping there to leave, taking their belongings with them. The building was occupied by Hogar Social Madrid (Madrid Social Home), an organization set up in 2014 to provide shelter and assistance exclusively to Spaniards – as opposed to immigrants – who had been made homeless or who lacked the means to support themselves as a result of the economic crisis.

Speaking from outside the building on Tuesday morning, Melisa D. Ruiz, the organization’s founder and leader, explained that this was the fifth time Hogar Social had been evicted, claiming that no warning had been given on this occasion. “We had no idea what was going on until they started taking people out of the rooms. The older people were thrown on the floor and had to lie there for 40 minutes. It was a relatively calm eviction, but the police could have been more humane,” she said. The building was used after the Spanish Civil War as a hospital for injured soldiers and is where General José Millán Astray, one of the key plotters in the rebellion launched by General Francisco Franco in July 1936, died in 1954. The eviction order was given by a court on March 7 after the Juan Carlos I University, which owns the property, reported that the premises had been occupied illegally in December.

Around a dozen supporters of the far-right organization turned up at the building on Tuesday morning after word spread on the social networks of the eviction. Amanda, aged 20, who says she has been a member of Hogar Social Madrid since it was set up, offered help to those who had been evicted. “They are persecuted, it’s not about the building they are occupying, that’s nothing to do with, the fact is that they don’t like them squatting,” she said, describing the organization’s work as “helping, delivering food and sticking together to avoid families living on the street. They aren’t doing anything wrong, they are simply helping people who have nothing,” she said. The owners of the building reportedly informed the squatters that they would be allowed to remove the food they had stored there so they could deliver it on Sunday.
© El Paķs in English


MaltaToday arson reports vindicated as judge throws out Lowell appeal

Appeals Court Judge says Lowell ‘threatened and used words of intimidation and then expected media to handle him with silk gloves, precisely a case of cowardice’

28/3/2017- The court of appeal has dismissed an appeal in a libel suit instituted by far-rightist and Holocaust denier Norman Lowell against MaltaToday and upheld the original decision by the Court of Magistrates. Lowell had filed an appeal after Magistrate Francesco Depasquale had thrown out the man’s original libel suit in October 2015. The libel had been filed after Lowell took exception to three newspaper reports in May 2006 that insinuated that his followers had been behind a spate of arson attacks on journalists and charities. He claimed that the articles had been based on falsehoods and had been written with the aim of damaging him and breaching the principles of freedom of expression and opinion.

Lowell had originally filed the libel case against MaltaToday managing editor Saviour Balzan, MaltaToday editor Matthew Vella and journalist Kurt Sansone. However, proceedings against the latter were withdrawn after Sansone, who later left the MaltaToday newsroom, had made an apology. Balzan and Vella had argued that the articles were justified by the right to freely report facts of a social and political nature, particularly in view of the “essentially racist” politics of the plaintiff and the importance of the right to “fair comment” in a democratic society. Magistrate Francesco Depasquale, citing several local and European Court cases, held that, in view of Lowell’s extremist outpourings, the articles were not libellous but factual. As a political person, Lowell was subject to higher levels of public scrutiny and criticism, added the magistrate.

In throwing out the libel suit, the court noted that Lowell’s behaviour and comments he had made on broadcast media were “not in any way acceptable in a democratic society, where diversity and multiculturalism form the foundations of Maltese society, as shown by the very language we speak.” In his appeal application, Lowell had argued that the first court had not examined whether the articles were libellous, saying that they did not constitute fair comment, that the court was prejudiced against him and that the sentence was “excessively verbose and irrelevant in the greater part.” But in a decision handed down earlier today, the Court of Appeal, presided by judge Anthony Ellul, disagreed with everything the applicant said. “I am not a neo-Nazi,” Lowell had asserted to the court. “I would be booted out of a Nazi party within five minutes… I am a libertarian.”

But quoting liberally from various posts on his website and online comments, the court observed that there was no doubt that the appellant wished Malta to be the first country in Europe where there were no immigrants. The court said that the use of the word neo-Nazi in the context it appeared, was a value judgment. “In the opinion of the court, the only message a reasonable reader would receive from the applicant is one of racism, xenophobia and hatred. In the circumstances, that he is described as a neo-Nazi cannot be taken to be libelous.” Lowell had never denied making the xenophobic comments, which could reasonably lead readers to conclude that he was a fanatic with a position of zero-tolerance towards the presence of immigrants in Malta, noted the judge. “It is evident that, on this subject, there is no space for discussion with the appellant.”

The court noted that Sansone’s renunciation of his article did not imply that it was libellous, as Lowell appeared to argue. “This is a position that this defendant chose to take.” On his objections to being linked with an arson attack on columnist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who had also taken a stand against his extremist rhetoric, the court said “one doesn’t need to be a professor to understand the applicant’s message. Threatening and using words of intimidation and then he expects the media to handle him with silk gloves. This is precisely a case of cowardice (“persuna li titfa’ l-gebla u wara tahbi jdejha”).”

The judge ended his judgment with a quote from the Council of Europe publication Journalism at Risk (2015). “When people who are not public figures engage in hate speech, it might be wise to ignore them entirely. Freedom of speech is a right for everyone, including politicians and public figures, and it is the job of the journalist to ensure that everyone has their say, but that does not mean granting a licence to lie, to spread malicious gossip or to encourage hostility and violence against any particular group. When people speak out of turn, good journalism should be there to set the record straight for all ” The court dismissed the appeal, also ordering Lowell to pay the costs of the case. Lawyer Veronique Dalli appeared for the defendants.

In a statement, MaltaToday executive editor Matthew Vella welcomed the confirmation of the first court’s decision. “Saviour Balzan and I are pleased with this outcome, which is a victory for combative journalism against the far-right in Malta, which demands to take up space in the democratic environment with its agenda of hatred and racial discrimination. We thank all our lawyers, past and present, who were with us in this overlong court case, as well as all past supporters of our libel fund.”
© Malta Today


Austria: Attacks against refugee shelters soar

31/3/2017- Austria recorded a sharp rise in attacks against migrant shelters last year, with 49 cases that mostly went unsolved compared to 25 in 2015, authorities said Friday. The incidents, revealed in a response by the interior ministry to a parliamentary enquiry, ranged from racist graffiti to arson, stones being thrown through windows and gas pipes being slashed. According to opposition lawmaker Albert Steinhauser who made the enquiry, 44 of the incidents that were clearly motivated by hatred. Steinhauser told the Austria Press Agency (APA) that in 77 percent of the cases, police had not managed to track down the culprits. "The most important thing is for the interior ministry to take these incidents serious and makes every necessary effort to investigate," he said. He said that no one wanted a situation like in neighbouring Germany -- where the population is around 10 times larger -- which reported almost 900 such cases in 2016.

The opposition far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) has stoked concerns about the influx to boost support, with its candidate Norbert Hofer coming close to being elected president last year. The ruling centrist coalition has taken a harder line, announcing plans to beef up surveillance, ban full-face veils in public and oblige migrants to sign an "integration contract". It has also stepped up deportations of migrants whose asylum claims are rejected, recently offering 1,000 euros ($1,069) to the first 1,000 people to volunteer for repatriation. Chancellor Christian Kern also wrote to Brussels this week looking for Austria to be exempted from an EU scheme to take in migrants relocated from hotspots Italy and Greece.

Recent studies have also shown a sharp rise in online hate speech, directed predominantly at Muslims, and suggested that Austrians' attitudes toward immigration have hardened. The interior ministry said there were also 49 incidents carried out by migrants themselves at the shelters including violence, death threats, stalking and vandalism. No comparison figures from prior years were released. "We have to look closely at what the causes are. We strongly suspect that trauma, experiences of war and extreme violence play a role," Steinhauser said, calling for better psychiatric care.
© The World Bulletin


Austria: Attacks against Muslims rose 62% in 2016

29/3/2017- Islamophobic attacks in Austria increased 62 percent in 2016 compared to the previous year, a report has suggested. The research from the Documentation and Consultancy Center for Muslims said the number of attacks against Muslims reached 253 in 2016, compared to 156 in 2015. A large majority of incidents involved Muslim women, researchers said, with well over half taking place on public transport or other public spaces. According to the report, 31 percent of attacks were written or verbal; 30 percent fell into the “hate speech” category; 12 percent targeted Muslim institutions and five percent were physical assaults. The report added some of the attacks took place in governmental institutions. Austria’s Documentation and Consultancy Center for Muslims was established in 1979 and has recorded attacks against Muslims since 2014. It also offers a counselling service to the victims of Islamophobic attacks. From a total population of around nine million people, Austria is home to around 600,000 Muslims; the vast majority are of Turkish origin.
© The Muslim News


Austria says wants exemption from EU migrant relocation system

28/3/2017- Austria will seek an exemption from having to accept more asylum-seekers under an EU relocation system, it said on Tuesday, arguing that it has already taken in its fair share during Europe's migration crisis. The move is a new blow to the system that would cover only a fraction of migrant arrivals to the European Union and that has barely been implemented because of opposition led by Eastern European countries including Poland and Hungary. It also coincides with a tightening of security and immigration rules by the centrist coalition government in Austria, where a wave of arrivals that began in 2015 helped fuel a rise in support for the far-right Freedom Party, which still leads in opinion polls. "We believe an exception is necessary for Austria for having already fulfilled its obligation. We will discuss that with the European Commission," Chancellor Christian Kern told reporters after a weekly cabinet meeting. "We will send a letter as quickly as possible and then begin discussions."

Fewer than 14,500 asylum-seekers have been relocated from Greece and Italy, the first EU countries that many refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa set foot in, under the two-year EU plan that was supposed to cover 160,000 people and which expires in September. "We are of the opinion ... that the people in question here already sought an asylum application or arrived in Italy or Greece," Kern said. "We must check whether we have already fulfilled our quota and discharged our obligation." Austria took in roughly 90,000 asylum seekers in 2015, more than 1 percent of its population. More than a million migrants arrived in Germany that year, most of them having passed through Austria after crossing the Balkans from Greece. Austria has repeatedly called on other EU countries to take their fair share, and has even backed the idea of financial penalties for those that do not. The Commission granted Austria a temporary exception because of the large number of people it had taken in, but that has since expired.

"Austria is now expected to fulfill its legal obligation ... to start relocating," Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud said. The government has been seeking to erode support for the Freedom Party with a series of law-and-order measures and stricter immigration rules. An "integration bill" agreed in cabinet on Tuesday would ban face-veils in public places and oblige unemployed refugees to perform jobs "of public utility" for no pay beyond their normal benefit payments.
© Reuters


Sweden: Campaign launched to highlight 'everyday racism' against Sami people

A new campaign has been launched in Sweden designed to highlight the "everyday racism" (vardagsrasism) faced by Sami people in the country.

28/3/2017- Sami language broadcasters Sameradion and SVT Sápmi have started the three-day campaign encouraging people with a Sami background to share racism they have experienced both online and in person. The stories can be shared through a series of social media hashtags in Swedish (#vardagsrasismmotmigsomsame), Northern Sami (#árgarasismamuvuostásápmelažžan) and Southern Sami (#aarkerasismamovvööstesaemine). Translated to English, the hashtag would be #everydayracismtowardssami”. "Everyday racism is racism that happens every day. It could be for example if a Sami person is called a 'Lapp', a word that we don't use about ourselves," the project's head Katarina Hällgren explained to The Local. "It can be contesting Sami-ness, questioning studying in Sami language at school, taunts at school, at work, in free time. Things a person in the majority says that they don't think are problematic, but leave the person subjected to them feeling uneasy. In many cases this is done through ignorance and through reproducing stereotypes."

Sami Parliament member Oscar Sedholm, who has written about the discrimination faced by Sami people, told The Local he is both positive about the campaign and sceptical about its potential to be abused. "It's good because it encourages people to come forwards with their stories. Bad, because there are few things that people enjoy as much as questioning other people's stories," he said. "I clearly see the risk of hijacking, especially from the extreme right which has a strong online presence, far beyond what we as a minority group can organize," he added. Most of the stories marked with the hashtag on Twitter so far appear to be using the tag as intended however. Examples include: "In Stockholm, wearing kolt (traditional Sami dress), someone does a fake joik behind my back: 'are you looking for reindeer?', 'you've come to the wrong place!' #vardagsrasismmotmigsomsame." "All the times I chose not to say that I'm Sami to avoid all the questions. #vardagsrasismmotmigsomsame."

Some instances of the hashtag being abused can be found however, including one person writing: "Is it the anti-white trash movie 'Sami Blood' which led Sami people to believe that they are experiencing some kind of oppression today? #vardagsrasismmotmigsomsame." The comment was in reference to internationally acclaimed movie Sami Blood, which tells the story of discrimination faced by Sami people in Sweden from the 1930s until the modern age.
© The Local - Sweden


Slovak Far-right MP sued for statements

The submitters point to the allegiance to neo-Nacism; but ¼SNS MP Milan Uhrík sees no reason for submitting the complaint.

27/3/2017- The MP for the far-right People’s Party – Our Slovakia (¼SNS) Milan Uhrík, may be prosecuted for his statements voiced during the political talk show O 5 Minút 12 (Five to Twelve) broadcast by the public-service RTVS on March 26. Uhrík, however, does not see any reason for the complaint. “We have submitted a criminal complaint due to a suspicion that the crimes of founding, supporting and promoting a movement leading to the suppression of fundamental human rights and freedoms according to the Criminal Code or the expression of sympathies towards a movement leading to the suppression of fundamental human rights and freedoms, might have been committed,” said Ondrej Dostál, MP for Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), who submitted the complaint, as quoted by the SITA newswire. Apart from him, a complaint was also submitted by non-affiliated Bratislava city councillor Lucia Štasselová, non-affiliated MP Viera Dubačová and deputy chair of the Civic Conservative Party (OKS) Juraj Petrovič.

During the talk show, SaS MP ¼ubomír Galko called on Uhrík to comment on the racist and fascist statements of other ¼SNS deputies and distance himself from them. “Those statements are not the official programme of the party, so yes, we distance ourselves from them,” Uhrík said, as quoted by SITA. He added however, that he liked a particular one, pointing to the need to secure the future of white children. “I don’t see anything bad in that,” Uhrík said, as quoted by SITA. “Consider me racist but I think that yes, we should also secure the future of white children, not only the other ones.” Štasselová in this respect recalled the statement, “we must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children” which is a well-known statement of racists and neo-Nazis. “The author of this sentence is American racist David Lane,” Štasselová said, as quoted by SITA, adding that the sentence has 14 words. This figure is often used as a neo-Nazi symbol, together with 88, which refers to the Nazi greeting.

Uhrík did not distance himself from this well-known neo-Nazi statement during the talk show; he rather claimed allegiance to it, said Petrovič. The politicians also say that ¼SNS chair Marian Kotleba has recently distributed cheques amounting to €1,488 to three families. Since there is a suspicion that the party claimed allegiance to the neo-Nazi symbol, the Special Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation into the case, SITA reported. Dostál meanwhile reminded people of the anniversary of the first transport of Jewish girls and young women to the death camp at Auschwitz, which took place on the same weekend as Uhrík discussed his views on the RTVS’ talk show. Uhrík, however, sees no reason for submitting the complaint against him. The statement is about protecting someone, not hurting them, he claimed, as reported by SITA.
© The Slovak Spectator.


EU stands aside as Hungary detains migrants

The European Commission is sending experts to Hungary to address concerns about the country’s new asylum law that allows blanket detention of asylum seekers, but it will not launch any probes for now, it emerged on Tuesday (28 March).

29/3/2017- The controversial legislation, which the UN’s refugee agency said violates Hungary’s obligations under international and EU laws, came into effect on Tuesday, just as EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos visited and EU laws, came into effect on Tuesday, just as EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos visited Budapest. The new law allows Hungary to detain every asylum seeker in shipping container camps at the two so-called transit zones on its border with Serbia while the asylum procedure is ongoing. EU law allows for detention in certain circumstances on a case-by-case basis, but not an automatic, blanket rule as the Hungarian legislation calls for.

Hungary argues that it is not detention because asylum seekers are free to leave towards Serbia. The commission, while still carrying out a legal assessment of the new law, offered a way out for the Hungarian authorities. At a press conference with Hungary’s interior and justice ministers, Avrampoulos said that "in a very friendly spirit of positive cooperation we decided to work together with experts to ensure EU rules are complied with.” He added that the EU is "based on fundamental principles to help those in need of protection, in a humane, dignified and respectful way”. “This implies giving effective access to the asylum procedure while fighting against abuses, but also ensuring a fair review of decisions,” the Greek EU commissioner said.

Senior commission officials, who have accompanied him to Budapest, will visit the Hungarian border with Serbia. The commission hopes that by working together with Hungarian authorities, it can avoid having to take formal steps. It is unclear however how the EU executive intends to fine tune the Hungarian law to make it compatible with European legislation. In the meantime, it continues to carry out the legal assessment of the new law, and according to sources, the college of commissioners will then discuss if any further action needs to be taken.

'Let's stop Brussels!'
Sandor Pinter, Hungary’s interior minister, said he hoped to formulate a common position with the Commission by the time summer holidays begin. Laszlo Trocsanyi, the country’s justice minister, said Hungary was interested in the dialogue and was confident about a compromise. He added though that, in his assessment, the new legislation was “appropriate”. "We are looking forward to the comments and we will give answers,” he said at the press conference in Budapest, where journalists were not allowed to ask questions. Earlier on Tuesday, the US-based NGO Human Rights Watch urged the commission to “call out Hungary’s asylum abuses.” It said in a statement that “for the sake of asylum seekers in Hungary, those in other EU member states tempted to follow in Hungary’s footsteps, and for the credibility of the EU’s values, Avramopoulos should demand that Hungary change course.”

The commission’s timid response could be linked with a so-called “national consultation” on several issues including asylum that is to be launched in Hungary this week. It ends on 20 May, boasting the message “Let’s stop Brussels!” The “Let’s stop Brussels” banner advertising the national consultation appeared on the Hungarian government’s Facebook page on Tuesday afternoon, after Avramopoulos’s press event with the ministers. Eight million Hungarian voters will be asked to send answers to the government’s questions on asylum issues including detention. One of the questions accuses international organisations of “encouraging” migrants to undertake behaviour by migrants. The EU Commission, or "Brussels", might not want to add fuel to the anti-Brussels campaign of the Budapest government by hitting Hungary with an infringement procedure or other probes.

Strasgbourg fight
Earlier this month, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which is not an EU court, ruled that Hungary unlawfully kept two migrants in a transit zone on its border with Serbia, also putting into doubt the legality of the new law. Hungary has said it would appeal the decision. Hungarian officials have since also toyed with the idea of pulling out of the European Convention on Human Rights, the legal basis for the Strasbourg court, if the appeal fails. However, Avramopoulos reminded officials in an interview with Hungarian media that the European Union is a signatory to the convention, meaning Hungary cannot “cherry pick” what rules it likes or does not like.
© The EUobserver


Hungary Plan That Could Shut Down Soros’s University Is Called ‘Political Vandalism’

29/3/2017- A law put forward by the Hungarian government would force a university founded by the Hungarian-American financier and philanthropist George Soros to shut its doors, the school’s top official said on Wednesday. The move, according to observers, was the latest development in a crackdown on free expression and liberal values under Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has embraced President Trump and vociferously denounced Mr. Soros, a billionaire who is a frequent target of attacks by the right-wing news media in both the United States and Europe. The school, the Central European University, opened in Mr. Soros’s native Budapest in 1991, not long after the fall of communism and the start of Hungary’s uneven transition to democracy. The school is known as a center for research in the social sciences, with programs led by internationally prominent educators.

The university has also given a platform to dissident voices, particularly in the period since Mr. Orban, who helped popularize the term “illiberal democracy,” came to power in 2010. Proponents of illiberal democracy place majority rule over civil liberties and minority rights, and they say that financiers like Mr. Soros are part of an elite capitalist class that puts cosmopolitan values over national interests. The university’s president and rector, Michael Ignatieff, is a human rights scholar and a former leader of the Liberal Party in Canada. In a phone interview from Budapest, he said he feared his institution was the main target of the legislation. “We view it as discriminatory and we view it as a piece of political vandalism,” Mr. Ignatieff said. “We feel that this isn’t just about us; this is about Hungarian academic freedom in general.”

The law would mandate that the university operate a campus in the United States, which it currently does not do — a requirement that Mr. Ignatieff said would be prohibitive financially. He said that the university, which operates as an American institution, was able to preserve its academic freedom because of that. The government’s action raised concern within the European Commission and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, as well as the American government. David J. Kostelancik, the temporary chargé d’affaires at the United States Embassy in Budapest, praised the university as an “important center for freedom of education in the region.” “The United States views with great concern the legislative amendments proposed by the Hungarian government yesterday, which would seriously challenge the functioning of the Central European University in Budapest,” a statement released on the embassy’s Facebook page said.

Mr. Soros, a Holocaust survivor, has financed many liberal causes and promoted democracy through his philanthropy, the Open Society Foundations. His right-wing critics assert that a good deal of Mr. Soros’s wealth came from financial speculation and accuse him of having an undue influence on politics in the United States and Europe. Mr. Orban built his career as an opposition figure; as a young man, he was prominent in the activism that helped bring down communism in 1989. But he has shifted far to the right, particularly since taking power in 2010, after an earlier stint as prime minister. In the 1990s, he and other main figures in his Fidesz political party once received grants from Mr. Soros’s foundation in Hungary. At that time, the party criticized attacks on Mr. Soros, whose organizations have sometimes faulted the government and other institutions in Hungary.

Over the last decade though, Fidesz adopted a different message, and now routinely accuses advocates for migrants, for example, of working on behalf of Mr. Soros and “international capital.” Mr. Ignatieff said government officials had, in private conversations, criticized the university’s choices of educators, among them opposition figures. The move against the university comes as civil society organizations that receive foreign funds, especially those affiliated with Mr. Soros, have come under increasing attack from governments in the region. These organizations, which once enjoyed promotion and protection from Washington, helped bolster societies in Central Europe as they emerged from decades of Soviet-era dictatorship. However, President Trump’s election has cast doubt on that support and has emboldened populist leaders in the region to move to crack down on what they see as organizations serving foreign political interests.

The university says it has nearly 1,800 students from more than 100 countries and 370 faculty members. The groups have also been alarmed by a series of letters to Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson from Republican politicians in Congress, who denounced organizations linked to Mr. Soros. One such letter, for example, said that the United States Agency for International Development had helped Soros groups “push a progressive agenda and invigorate the political left” in Macedonia. Hungarian officials on Wednesday rejected claims that the new legislation was created to target Mr. Soros’s university. “This is not a move against any university of any foreign country but a clarification of the law,” Laszlo Palkovics, a senior education official, said in a phone interview from Budapest. “Just because a university is affiliated with Mr. Soros, that doesn’t mean that Hungarian law does not equally apply to it.” Mr. Palkovics said he would speak with Mr. Ignatieff and also reach out to the United States Embassy.

Mr. Orban’s tactics have been compared to the playbook of President Vladimir V. Putin’s administration in Russia. The government there has pressured nonprofit organizations that get foreign funds and essentially forced many to close. Defenders of the organizations point out that many are apolitical and work in vital areas like combating the growing H.I.V. epidemic in the country. “The Hungarian academic sector needs specifically these international relations and inspirations to be able to further develop,” said Peter Kreko, a political analyst and visiting professor at Indiana University in Bloomington. He is involved with Political Capital, an independent research institute in Hungary that has received Soros funding. Mr. Kreko called the proposed law “an escalation” of troubling trends. “The Hungarian government is taking ever tougher steps against civil society, higher education, the news media and other sectors,” he said. The proposal was submitted to Parliament on Tuesday and could become law by summer.

He warned it was not an isolated move, noting that Mr. Orban’s illiberal democracy is seen by some as a model in the region. “Nobody should believe that what is going on in Poland is independent of what goes on in Hungary,” he said. Mr. Ignatieff said that the embassy’s statement was proof that Hungary’s move did not go unnoticed. “If the government of Hungary was gambling that the Trump administration would say nothing about a flagrant discriminatory attack on an American institution, they judged wrong,” Mr. Ignatieff said. “In an era of post-truth politics,” he said, “institutions that devote themselves to telling people that there is such a thing as knowledge, and it’s the only reliable basis upon which to make public choice, that’s pretty important.”
© The New York Times


France: Le Pen wanted millions more from Russia

31/3/2017- Revelations that Marine Le Pen tried to borrow a further €3 million from Russia pose questions on Kremlin interference in the French election. Mediapart, a French investigative website, revealed on Friday (31 March) that Le Pen, the French anti-EU and far-right candidate, agreed to borrow the funds in order to finance her campaign. The website published an internal document of her National Front party, showing that she and party chiefs on 15 June last year decided to borrow €3 million from Strategy Bank in Russia at an interest rate of 6 percent per year to be repaid in 2018. It said the “purpose of the borrowed money” was “financing the electoral campaign”. Mediapart also published a second National Front document, which said the funds were to be used for election “expenses” and were to be wired to a bank account opened in Le Pen’s name.

Le Pen, whose surprise meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Moscow last week caused a stir, declined to comment. The party’s treasurer, Wallerand de Saint-Just, who told press last week that the National Front was not asking Russia for more money, told Mediapart that the €3 million loan was “just a project, which did not have any follow-up”. Mediapart did not say whether the National Front received the money and did not give information about Strategy Bank. The revelations come after Le Pen and her father admitted last year to having previously borrowed €11 million from different Russian sources. Fears of Russian election-meddling in Europe were heightened after Moscow was accused of having swayed the outcome of the US vote via hacking and disinformation.

Le Pen is neck-and-neck in polls with the centrist, pro-EU candidate Emmanuel Macron for the first round of the presidential vote on 23 April. He has been targeted by Russian hackers and accused of being secretly gay, an agent of US banks, and of being an agent of Saudi Arabia in French-language Russian media. Speaking to EUobserver in an interview on Thursday, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Russian former oil chief who was jailed after trying to enter politics, said Putin saw Le Pen as a “realistic chance to destroy the EU”. Even if the EU could politically survive France leaving the bloc, as Le Pen wants it to, Khodorkovsky added that a French EU exit would, for Putin, mean that “the EU would have no more nuclear weapons”.

France and the UK, the latter of which started EU exit talks this week, are the only nuclear-armed EU countries. Frans Timmermans, the Dutch EU commissioner, also told the Spanish parliament on Thursday that Putin was using far-right parties to harm the EU. “The reason why Putin supports the extreme right in Europe is because it weakens us and divides us,” he said. “A divided Europe means that Putin is the boss,” he added. Putin told press in Moscow that his meeting with Le Pen was not an attempt to interfere in France. He also denied US election-meddling at a meeting with the Finnish and Icelandic presidents in Russia on Thursday. Putin said that US intelligence services made the accusation for the sake domestic politics. “So what do we want to achieve? To terminate our diplomatic relations completely? To drive the situation to the level that it was at in the 1960s during the Cuban missile crisis? And where next?” he said at the meeting in Arkhangelsk, in north-west Russia.

Sauli Niinisto, the Finnish president, said it was wrong to think that global tension was increasing. “Very many of my European Union colleagues [are] visiting Moscow ... the dialogue is increasing, and that’s not tension, that’s getting rid of tensions”, he said. Niinisto offered to convene a summit of Arctic leaders at which Putin could meet the new US president, Donald Trump, for the first time in a bid to lower tensions further. The Danish and Norwegian foreign ministers also participated in the Arkhangelsk meeting.
© The EUobserver


France: Could Marine Le Pen become the next president?

Less than a month before the first round of France’s presidential election, most opinion polls foresee far-right leader Le Pen losing to centrist Macron in the run-off. But can polls - which failed to predict Brexit and Trump's election – be trusted ?

31/3/2017- With less than a month to go before the first round of France’s presidential election, most opinion polls are predicting the same outcome. Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, the leader of the eurosceptic, anti-immigration National Front, is expected to do well in the first round of the election but be resoundingly defeated in the run-off, by the pro-European centrist Emmanuel Macron. So does this mean that progressives can rest on their laurels and stop fretting about the prospect of Le Pen becoming president? Or, after failing to predict Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, have the pollsters got it wrong yet again?

The beauty of the French system is that voters get to vote twice. In the first round - this year they will have no less than 11 options – they choose the candidate they prefer, regardless of whether or not this person has any real chance of being elected. In the run-off, two weeks later, they choose between the remaining candidates, acutely aware that one of the two will indeed be their next leader. Or, as French history professor Robert Tombs put it so well in a recent piece: “In the first round you vote for the person you want; in the second you vote against the person you fear." This is where the “front républicain” or “Republican front” comes into play. It is a French tradition of strategic voting that aims to keep extremists well away from the halls of power. In the event of a run-off involving a far-right contender, mainstream parties call on their supporters to vote for the rival candidate, whoever he or she may be.

This is exactly what happened in 2002, when Marine Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie, unexpectedly reached the second round. Left-wing voters held their noses and cast their ballot for the conservative candidate, Jacques Chirac, even though they would never have done so under normal circumstances. Chirac was re-elected with a whopping 82 percent of the vote. For months now, this year’s election has been shaping up to be a remake of 2002. And with scandal-hit conservative candidate François Fillon slipping in the polls, most pollsters now predict that Marine Le Pen will face Emmanuel Macron in the run-off. These polls certainly foresee the "front républicain" springing into action. To give just one example, an Opinionway survey published this Thursday sees Macron defeating Le Pen with a 64-36 percent majority, provided the French duly use their vote strategically to keep the far-right dynasty out of power. 

But as we all know, opinion polls these days are to be taken with a large pinch of salt. One French daily, Le Parisien, has stopped publishing them altogether. Here at FRANCE 24, we are also relying less on polls in our day-to-day coverage. A more reliable indicator may be voter turnout. Historical precedent suggests abstention plays into the hands of extremists and populists – France’s shock first-round result from 2002 is a case in point. More recently, low turnout in the US among those who did not support Donald Trump appears to have helped get him elected. One analysis shows that some Democratic voters who were uninspired by Hillary Clinton did not bother to vote at all. In light of this, the fact that the French presidential run-off is being held on a bank holiday weekend – when some voters might be out of town – could dampen turnout.

On March 27, an opinion piece appeared in French left-wing daily Libération, penned by Serge Galam, a physicist who predicted the election of Donald Trump. It delved into the possibility of a Le Pen victory, calling the "front républicain" a "glass ceiling". Focusing on the second round, the author calculated that if voter turnout is extremely high among Le Pen supporters (around 90 percent) but relatively low among other voters (around 70 percent), then with an overall turnout of 79 percent, Le Pen could eke out just enough support to obtain 50.25 percent of the vote, which is more than enough to win. The author predicted a similar razor-thin victory for Le Pen with two slightly different sets of turnout figures. In other words: France’s two-round voting system, which so far has acted as its insurance policy against extremism, could fail to stop the far right from reaching the presidential palace.

As Serge Galam concludes: "After going from impossible to unlikely, the election of Le Pen as president in 2017 is now slipping from unlikely to very possible." For progressives everywhere, this is a terrifying prospect. Still, French people tend to be politically astute. Macron’s election remains the most likely outcome. But even if the "front républicain" does kick into gear this time and Macron is elected, France is not entirely off the hook. A gloomy weekend editorial in right-wing daily Le Figaro on March 11-12 predicted that if Macron’s presidency turns out to be disappointing or divisive, Le Pen will be back with a vengeance in 2022. And if French people are sufficiently fed up by then, the "front républicain" might not hold up against the tide of discontent. Le Pen could then cross the Rubicon and shatter that other glass ceiling, which once seemed so robust.
© France 24.


France: 40 of 50 headstones at Jewish cemetery are smashed, toppled

31/3/2017- Forty of the 50 headstones at an 18th-century Jewish cemetery in France were smashed or toppled. A passer-by noticed the vandalism earlier this week at the cemetery in Waldwisse, a village situated 215 miles east of Paris, the France3 television channel reported Thursday. The cemetery is no longer in use. Police are investigating the attack, the second on the cemetery since 2014. Three young men perpetrated the previous attack and received suspended sentences.

Separately, a monument commemorating the Holocaust in the Greek municipality of Kavala was smashed one year after its unveiling in memory of 1,484 locals who were murdered, the Ekathimerini daily reported. The perpetrators used a hammer to smash the marble façade, which is emblazoned with a Star of David, according to the report. Police have no suspects in custody.
© JTA News.


French become less xenophobic, still wary of Islam, study reveals

Despite jihadist terrorist attacks and the refugee crisis an annual survey measuring levels of racism in France has revealed the French are becoming more tolerant of minorities, and that there has been a drop in the number of racist and anti-Semitic incidents.

30/3/2017- The survey, carried out by the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH), revealed on Thursday the French were more tolerant to minorities compared to previous years. The annual survey by the rights commission linked to the government is carried out to get an idea of levels of racism, xenophobia and intolerance in the country. After the studies of the last three years suggested levels of racist acts were on the rise, the 2017 survey has shown a decrease. "Paradoxically, despite the extremely tense context of the tragic terror attacks, we can see the continuation of an appeasement and an openness," the report read. "Despite what you may think, fear of terrorism has created more national cohesion than it has demolished." "Racist comments and behaviour is being deemed to be more intolerable by the French." Indeed, the stats show that the number of reported acts of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia dropped 45 percent in 2016, compared to the previous year - in which they'd skyrocketed by 22 percent

The group said that there were 1,125 such incidents in 2016, compared to 2,034 in 2015, which was the highest number since the surveys began. Islamophobic acts dropped 58 percent from 2015 to 2016, with 182 acts reported over the year. Anti-Semitic acts dropped 58.5 percent over the same period, with 335 acts reported compared to 808 in 2015. The report suggested that the drops were due, in part, to the decision taken after the Paris terror attack of January 2015, to station soldiers outside "sensitive" areas like mosques, synagogues Jewish schools. Despite the drop in reported acts of racism, the president of the CNCDH, Christine Lazerges, noted that the stats only showed the tip of the iceberg. "It's estimated that only 6 percent of racist abuse is actually reported to the authorities, and only 3 percent is registered as a complaint," she told the AFP.

The French, meanwhile, appear to becoming more tolerant towards people of different races for the fourth year in a row. Indeed, the group's index of tolerance, which aims to provide an overall look at levels of racial tolerance via the survey responses, showed that France is currently at a near-record high level of acceptance since the surveys began in 2000. Meanwhile, 54 percent of French people consider themselves "not racist at all", compared to 43 percent in 2014 - with the new score marking another record high since the survey began 17 years ago. The survey also noted that immigration wasn't even a primary concern for the French, with just 3.8 percent of respondents saying it was their "main worry". It was unemployment that came out on top at 21 percent, followed by terrorism at 18 percent. Despite the improvements, there are still divisions between whom the French are actually tolerant towards.

"Jewish people, the black community, and Asians are the minorities remain the minorities that are the best accepted," the report read. "Apart from the Roma community, it is the Muslims who are the least accepted." The study showed some 46 percent of French people thought Islam was a threat to French identity. Certain Islamic religious practices also provoked negative attitudes with some 58 percent of respondents saying they were against the wearing of the headscarf. However that reflects a drop of 22 percent on the previous year. There was also a drop in negative attitudes towards halal food and Ramadan and some 79 percent of French people believe Muslims should be able to practice their religion in "good conditions", albeit 59 percent opposed the idea of "facilitating the practice of Muslim worship in France". Some 59 percent of French people were against the wearing of the Muslim swimsuit known as the burkini, which was banned by several French towns last summer before being overturned amid widespread outrage.

But it was the Roma community who provoked the most hostile attitudes. The survey also found that 54 percent of respondents thought that the members of the Roma community in France "didn't want to integrate", compared with 77 percent who said the same thing in the previous year. The report authors recommended that if things are to continue to get better, the government needs to improve education for children on the matter from their very first years of school. "We also need to fight against any kind of hierarchy when it comes to the victims," the group's president Lazerges said. "Authorities must condemn anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, sexism and homophobia all in the same way." "Paradoxically, despite the extremely tense context of the tragic terror attacks, we can see the continuation of an appeasement and an openness," the report read. "Despite what you may think, fear of terrorism has created more national cohesion than it has demolished." "Racist comments and behaviour is being deemed to be more intolerable by the French."
© The Local - France


French Neo-Nazi group goes on trial in Amiens

Eighteen people are going on trial in the northern French city of Amiens over a series of offences by a neo-Nazi gang known as the White Wolves Klan.

27/3/2017- Among those due to appear in court is the notorious far-right activist, Serge Ayoub. They face 35 charges including armed violence, theft and attempted murder. Serge Ayoub was forced to disband two far-right groups he led after sympathisers were involved in a brawl in which a left-wing activist died. Several of those on trial on Monday for their role in the White Wolves Klan were linked to the groups banned in 2013, the Third Way and the Revolutionary Nationalist Youth. Serge Ayoub himself is known as "Batskin" because of his fondness for baseball bats. According to prosecutors the alleged offences took place between 2012 and 2014 and involved attacks on rival groups or former members trying to leave the gang. In one incident, supporters of a group called Autonomous Nationalists were lured to a garage where they were attacked with knives.
© BBC News.


Germany: Suspected neo-Nazi murderer seeks insanity defense

31/3/2017- A lawyer for Beate Zschaepe, the sole surviving member of the National Socialist Underground (NSU), a neo-Nazi gang that murdered Turks in Germany, asked the court to reassess her for "mental disorder." Mathias Grasel yesterday told a Munich court that it should hear an alternative report by a psychiatrist who said Zschaepe suffered from a disorder that forced her to remain dependent on others and thereby was forced to join the crimes of Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Boehnhardt, two other members of the gang, who took their lives when police closed in on them. The court accepted and if the report is approved, Zschaepe may benefit from a reduction of her sentence, in a trial that has been underway since 2013. The NSU is accused of murdering eight Turks and a string of bank robberies.
© The Daily Sabah


German far-right party urges supporters to infiltrate police

30/3/2017- A far-right party in Germany is urging its supporters to join the police force in the eastern state of Saxony to obtain information about migrants accused of committing crimes. The National Democratic Party says supporters should also apply for Saxony's Security Watch — a volunteer unit that supports regular police — to gain insights into how law enforcement agencies work. The party, known by its acronym NPD, said joining the unit was "a start, and it offers national activists the opportunity to work completely legally in a security-related field." In January, Germany's highest court ruled the NPD's goals run counter to the country's constitution but stopped short of banning the party. Saxony's interior ministry told The Associated Press on Thursday that police applicants found to be supporters of the NPD would be rejected.
© The Associated Press


Germany: After Poor Election Showing for AfD, Germans Wonder if it Marks a Trend or Blip

30/3/2017- A strong victory for German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Social Union (CDU) in the recent Saarland state election could signal that the populist trend in Germany is declining. Support for the far right Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) party, which holds anti-Islam, anti-immigration, anti-European Union views, has begun to drop from its previous historic highs. After enjoying spectacular growth last year to become Germany’s third largest party it endured its lowest election result in more than a year in Sunday’s Saarland state election. A year ago, the AfD achieved its best result, 24.3 percent, in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, taking second place just five points behind Merkel’s CDU. Last week, by contrast, the party secured just 5.9 percent in the small western state of Saarland. The CDU won 40.4 percent in Saarland, and 30.1 percent went to the Social Democrats (SPD), according to early results by public broadcasters.

The results come a week after an INSA institute national opinion poll, published in Bild, gave the AfD 11.5 percent, way behind the CDU at 31 percent. The center-left SPD, meanwhile gained a point to take the lead, with 32 percent. With less than seven months until its federal elections Germany appears to be bucking the populist trend, unlike the situation in neighboring France where right wing candidate Marine Le Pen is enjoying continued popularity ahead of presidential elections there next month. Martin Schulz’ emergence as the SPD’s chancellor candidate appears to be a driving force behind the party’s recent growth, sapping the AfD of some of its support. Schulz, a former president of the European Parliament who promotes himself as an “everyman,” has gained notable support among both left- and right-wing voters. For its part, the actions of Merkel’s ruling coalition government in Berlin have also done much to manage the fears that once fed the AfD’s success.

Since the beginning of the migration crisis in July 2015, a range of tougher, albeit controversial, measures such as stricter screening and tougher deportation rules, alongside the refugee deal with Turkey, have significantly reduced the number of migrants and refugees flocking to Germany, effectively stripping the AfD of its key platform issue. “The issues of [the] refugee crisis and migration have been pushed into the background a little – and of course the AfD profits from those a lot,” Deutsche Welle quoted Hans Vorländer, political scientist at the Technical University in Dresden as saying. He added that the AfD will likely face further barriers this year, with upcoming elections in western states, where big parties are traditionally better connected than in Germany’s eastern states. The eastern states have been favorable to the AfD, and may more be closely aligned to its message due to region’s communist past. Hajo Funke, a political scientist at Berlin's Free University, said the former East Germany “was an authoritarian regime that was not very open to diversity and which did not seek to integrate foreigners.”

The biggest city in the east, Dresden, is the home of the anti-Islam activist group PEGIDA, and has witnessed a large number of attacks on shelters for asylum seekers. The neo-Nazi party, the NPD, also has some 264 elected municipal officials in the east, compared with 74 in the west. Other academics disagree that the AfD’s attraction is limited to the east, however. Gero Neugebauer, professor of political sociology at Free University believes it is too early to make assumptions, and that the AfD still has the power to attract voters on other issues such as the power of the European Union, or “Islamization” in Germany. “I’d really warn against thinking that the bad results in Saarland say anything in particular,” Neugebauer said, pointing instead to local conditions.. “The AfD’s Saarland result can be traced to the leader that the party had there, and the direction of the state party there – it’s seen as a party of strange people with links to far-right extremists.”

Regardless, Neugebauer admitted that AfD’s more controversial right leaning figures are a possible threat to the party’s future. He said they could scare away potential voters who might agree with the message of the AfD but dislike the negative public image created by them. The party has faced growing difficulties with its public appearance, struggling to manage divisions in its ranks, particularly among these more controversial members. Last October, it even considered disbanding its Saarland chapter entirely after it emerged that it had been maintaining contact with local neo-Nazis. AfD member and Dresden judge Jens Maier caused controversy earlier this year when he denounced a Holocaust monument as reflecting a “guilt cult.” Björn Höcke has proven to be another controversial figure in the party, known for openly racial overtones in his speeches.

And the party faced a backlash in February when regional chairwoman Elena Roon was revealed to have expressed views seen as supportive of Adolf Hitler. After the Saarland election victory, CDU secretary general Peter Tauber described the outcome as signaling a turn away from disruptive forces such as the AfD. “In uncertain times, the people trust in leaders and political forces that govern in a dependable way,” he said.
© CNS News


German politician wants 'Islam law' and mosque registry

A leading member of Chancellor Merkel's CDU party, Jens Spahn, wants more rules governing the practice of Islam in Germany. Among other things, he has called for German-language sermons in mosques.

30/3/2017- Germany needs an "Islam law" to regulate Muslim religious communities and ensure that what is being preached in mosques around the country is "transparent," according to leading conservative politician Jens Spahn. Spahn, a member of the executive committee of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), told the Funke Media Group on Thursday that authorities "had to know what happens in mosques," saying that Muslim sermons in German would help diminish prejudice. In an interview with DW, Spahn cited the example of Austria as a precedent: "The Austrians have had an Islam law since imperial times, and there things function better. We could learn from them." He called for German tests for imams, saying that many of the preachers who delivered sermons in German mosques came from abroad, could not speak German and were paid by other countries. "Do we really know if their sermons are being made in accordance with our laws? And it's about more than that. Is it enough, just to ask that they don't break the law? Should they not encourage cooperation and integration?" Spahn said to DW.

Mosque registry
Spahn also demanded that mosques be registered, saying that authorities "did not know how many mosques there are in Germany, where they are or who finances them." A major problem, according to Spahn, was the lack of a central representative for the Muslims living in Germany. He said that the political Islamic associations with whom the German government had previously worked represented a very conservative form of Islam. "They speak only for a minority of Muslims. They are the wrong partners," said Spahn, a professed Catholic.

Financing religion
In addition, Spahn, who is also the deputy finance minister, called for the training of imams, teachers of religion and counselors to be paid for with tax money. "That will be a hard debate, but I would rather we finance this than that the money comes from Turkey or Saudi Arabia," he said, saying that a "church tax" for Muslims was also a possibility: "If the Muslim communities want a tax law, we should talk about it." Germany already collects money from members of Christian churches in the form of a so-called Church Tax, the proceeds of which are passed on to religious authorities in Germany. "What is clear at any rate: the financing by foreign actors must stop," the politician told DW. The conservative politician also had some criticism for Christian churches in Germany, accusing them of being "uncritical" with regard to Islam. "A friendly photo of fast-breaking, then each goes their own way; it can't go on like that," he said. Spahn's proposals echo those made last year by Andreas Scheuer, the secretary general of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's CDU.

'No need for laws on religions'
Spahn's proposals were quickly dismissed as unnecessary by leading Greens politician Volker Beck. "We don't need an Islam law, a Christianity law or a Buddhism law," he said. "The religious communities organize and administer their own affairs." He conceded that sermons in German and having imams trained at German universities would be a positive development. However, he said that this was something that could not be made compulsory, noting that German communities abroad continued to speak in German, while in synagogues, the Torah was mostly read in Hebrew. German authorities estimate that more than 5 percent of the population, or some 4.5 million people, adhere to the Muslim faith in Germany.
© The Deutsche Welle*


Germany: Survey shows more Muslims help refugees than Christians

A new report on Monday found that Muslims living in Germany were about twice as likely to say they had helped refugees than Christians.

27/3/2017- The poll by the Bertelsmann Stiftung showed that, with 44 percent of Muslim reporting that they had worked to help refugees, followers of Islam were more socially engaged than any other religious group. About one in five Christians (21 percent) also said that they had helped refugees within the past year. And 17 percent of religiously unaffiliated respondents said they had volunteered their time or efforts. In total, including all religious backgrounds, one-fifth of Germans said they had worked to assist refugees. "This voluntary involvement shows that our society sticks together in difficult times, regardless of religion or backgrounds," said Bertelsmann Islam expert Yasemin El-Menouar in a statement. The survey was part of the third religion monitor report by the Bertelsmann foundation to analyze the role of religion in society.

Bertelsmann experts said that one reason why Muslims are more engaged than other religious groups could be due to their sense of shared origins: many who volunteer came from the same homelands as the refugees they helped, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Bangladesh. And because it’s important to have helpers on hand who share the same language, religious ideas, and culture as refugees, the experts noted that German Muslims can be “important bridge-builders in our society”. “The assumption that Muslims would abuse their positions as refugee helpers to influence them religiously is unfounded, according to the Religion Monitor 2017,” the report states. “At most, one to two percent of these helpers can be said to have the intent of radicalizing refugees. The vast majority of Muslims advocate for having an open attitude towards other religions.”

Of unaffiliated respondents who said they had helped refugees, more than a third reported doing so at least once a week. Among Muslims, this proportion was 28 percent, and among Christians, this figure was about 20 percent. The study also showed a divide between former Cold War East and West Germany: Nearly one in four (22 percent) within the former West said they helped refugees, while just 14 percent said the same in the former East. However, those who volunteered in the East did so more often than those in the West. Women were also more likely to volunteer than men, and people with better education or money were also more likely to have helped refugees.
© The Local - Germany


Germany's AfD in crisis after Saarland slump

Germany's populist, nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) had to make do with a relatively low election result in the state of Saarland. But leader Frauke Petry cried for a very different reason on Sunday.

27/3/2017- Frauke Petry had more than one reason to cry on Sunday. The leader of Germany's most successful nationalist party since the Third Reich was pictured in tears at a party conference in Weinböhla, Saxony, because (according to the "Bild" newspaper) of a verbal attack on her delivered by Roland Ulbrich, a far-right candidate who ran against her to be Alternative for Germany's (AfD) election candidate. A few hours later, it emerged that the AfD had scored its lowest election result in over a year in the Saarland state election. After an impressive run of five results in 2016 that all cracked double figures (including a peak of 24.3 percent in Saxony-Anhalt), the AfD had to make do with 6.2 percent in the western German state. Despite the tears, the 41-year-old Petry did get elected as the party's leading candidate in the state of Saxony (garnering 72 percent of the 280 votes), seeing off challenges from two representatives of the party's far right who used their speeches to accuse her of attempting to split the party.

Cutting people out
But Petry also had to contend with another defeat in Weinböhla, when a majority of the delegates voted down her motion to have Dresden judge Jens Maier removed from the party. Maier had attracted unwelcome headlines in January, when, during a now-notorious event hosted by the AfD's youth organization, he declared Germany's "guilt cult" about the Holocaust as over - the kind of "dog-whistle" statement that plays well to Germany's neo-Nazis. Petry had defended the motion to have Maier thrown out of the party, saying the AfD needed to assess whether his speech had damaged the party. "Otherwise, our silence will be taken as an agreement to everything that is said within the AfD," she was quoted by the DPA news agency as saying.

In recent months, the AfD has occasionally appeared to be at war with its own right wing, often initiating expulsion motions against prominent members, like Björn Höcke, who have included open racial overtones in their speeches. In late October last year, the federal party even flirted with disbanding its Saarland chapter after it emerged that the regional party had been maintaining contact with local neo-Nazis. In the end, however, no major figure has ever been expelled from the party - leading some pundits to suggest that the exclusion motions themselves were cynical tactics intended to mollify more traditionally centrist conservative elements of the party - and potential voters.

Slump in form?
Either way, the slump in Saarland has attracted many people's attention, and has led many to suggest that the AfD is in crisis. "The issues of refugee crisis and migration have been pushed into the background a little - and of course the AfD profits from those a lot," said Hans Vorländer, political scientist at the Technical University in Dresden. "The other thing is that there is currently a mobilization process favoring the old parties, namely the SPD and CDU [Germany's two big governing centrist parties]. On top of that, in the western German states, the connection to the big parties is traditionally much stronger than in the eastern German states."

But other political scientists warned against reading too much into the Saarland election. "The AfD's Saarland result can be traced to the leader that the party had there, and the direction of the state party there - it's seen as a party of strange people with links to far-right extremists," said Gero Neugebauer, professor of political sociology at Berlin's Free University. "I'd really warn against thinking that the bad results in Saarland say anything in particular." Neugebauer thinks that the AfD can still attract voters on a range of other issues that aren't necessarily linked to the refugee crisis of 2015 - relations with Russia, the power of the European Union, or "Islamization" in Germany. As for the AfD itself, it is certainly trying to cover a number of different bases: "There are different sections," he told DW. "There are the remains of the old AfD - economically liberal with conservative values - they represent a bridge to the old conservative camp of the CDU.

Then there are people like Höcke, who are bridges to the far-right camp. Putting it crudely, the basic position is: 'We have to keep ourselves open to the right, so that we get that audience, but in public we have to have an image that keeps us in contact with middle-class conservatives.'" But there's no doubt that public rows over members like Höcke and Maier seem to have turned off many potential voters: people who might agree with the message of the AfD, but, as Neugebauer puts it, "don't like the impression they make in public." "And that depresses the AfD," he added, "Because among other things it loses them connections to people who could donate to them, to people in business circles."
© The Deutsche Welle*


Eastern Germany: Few foreigners but xenophobia is rife

A social worker in the drab eastern German city of Frankfurt an der Oder admits she feels isolated at work whenever talk turns to the country's record influx of refugees.

26/3/2017- "I have to say that my colleagues are not very friendly towards foreigners and I am almost alone in my opinion," Elisabeth, who gave just her first name, told AFP. Foreigners are rarely seen in the former communist city about 100 kilometres (60 miles) east of Berlin, but as in much of eastern Germany, there is deep suspicion toward migrants. With its attacks on Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to let in around a million asylum seekers since 2015, the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has found fertile ground in the east. At the last state elections in 2014, before Germany's migrant crisis erupted, the AfD won 11 seats in the state assembly of Brandenburg, where Frankfurt an der Oder is located. Police commissioner Wilko Moeller, who leads the city's local chapter of the AfD, noted that the region offers "great potential" for his protest party. In an illustration of how favourable the climate is for the AfD, its deputy chairman Alexander Gauland is running for a national seat in Frankfurt an der Oder in the September 24th general elections.

'Far too many migrants'
With its tall concrete residential blocks in the centre of town, Frankfurt an der Oder, at the border with Poland, has struggled to shed its ex-communist yoke. Like other parts of the eastern region, the city has been losing population. Once home to 87,000 inhabitants, a quarter-century later only 58,000 people are left as many have moved west in search of better opportunities. The unemployment rate stands at 10 percent, far above the 5.9 percent rate nationwide. And even if foreigners make up just over one percent of the city's population, some 1,400 people - half of them asylum seekers who arrived in 2015 - many locals still feel that's too many.

A retiree, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: "I don't think refugees should have been allowed in like that. Even if we are a social country, we have our own problems. "I am not xenophobic, but that was far too many." Her sentiment is mirrored across much of Germany's five states in the former communist east, where the number of jobless is higher than the western average and where few migrants are seen on the streets. Even in 2015 - when the mass migrant influx brought the total number of foreigners in Germany to 9.1 million - only 476,000 made their home in the east, according to official data.

'Structural racism'
Hajo Funke, a political scientist at Berlin's Free University, said eastern Germany suffers from a "structural" problem of racism. The former East Germany "was an authoritarian regime that was not very open to diversity and which did not seek to integrate foreigners," he said. Following reunification in 1990, resentment also built up over the economic gap with western Germany as new prosperity failed to materialise quickly enough, he said. Just two years later in 1992, race riots rocked the eastern coastal city of Rostock, with mobs flinging petrol bombs and stones at an apartment block housing migrants while thousands of bystanders applauded. More recently, the anti-Islam PEGIDA movement was born in the biggest city in the east, Dresden, and the proportion of assaults against shelters for asylum seekers has been far higher than in the west. The neo-Nazi party NPD also has some 264 elected municipal officials in the east, compared with 74 in the west.

Funke noted that the Rostock riots became a template of violence for a generation that grew up during the turbulent reunification years, and became drawn to the extremist movement. But the AfD's Moeller rejects any racist view of east Germans, saying it is disillusionment that has pushed them to the right. Reflecting its voter base, Moeller's AfD office is located not in the town centre, but in the working class district of Neuberesinchen, where Gerd, 61, lives. Smoking a cigar at the foot of a decrepit building with peeling paint, Gerd, who is a far-left Linke party voter, nevertheless defended the AfD. "They don't want the Nazis to come back," he said. "They don't want a Hitler either." Thomas Klaehn, who works with a migrant aid group, believes that those who deny they are racist while rejecting migrants "often have had no contact with refugees". "But if someone manages to put them in contact and build a positive relationship, then they could be brought over to the side of 30 percent who are for them."


East German boom town breaks populist, backward stereotypes

With higher unemployment rates than western Germany and support for the anti-immigration AfD party reaching 20 percent, the country's former communist east has often been associated with economic decline and xenophobia.

26/3/2017- But some cities in eastern Germany have emerged as economic bright spots where populist politicians are finding it hard to gain ground. Take the city of Jena in Thuringia state - population 100,000, unemployment rate 6.5 percent. Long known as a "lighthouse" of the region, the city boasts a flourishing high-tech sector and a strong optical technology sector that even the communist years didn't extinguish. Just a short walk from the colourful facades of the market square, a white building stands out, bearing the blue letters "Jenoptik". The company's chief executive Michael Mertin, who employs 3,500 people, told AFP that "the combination of high-tech, well-trained employees and internationalisation have certainly been a factor of success".

The company traces its beginnings to the optical giant Carl Zeiss, part of which was nationalised during the communist era. Jenoptik grew out of the nationalised firm after German reunification in 1990. Today, it makes and sells optic systems and laser equipment across the world. During a late-winter visit, the company was playing host to two South Koreans in town to learn how to use its high-precision laser technology that cuts car parts. Jenoptik is not alone in success in Jena, which now boasts some 5,000 enterprises. A long-standing university has also regained popularity, and students make up a quarter of the population.

'Still prejudices'
"Jena has managed to overcome crises, because the technology companies of the city target a range of markets with varied products and are strong in exports," said Wilfried Roepke, who heads the city's economic promotion agency Jena Wirtschaft (Jena Economy). That makes the city one of a few exceptions in eastern Germany, even if it's not the only success story today. Mercedes-Benz is investing millions of euros in Ludwigsfeld in Brandenburg state that surrounds Berlin, while BMW has built an ultra-modern factory in Leipzig. Dresden has its Silicon Saxony of IT firms, and in Potsdam, the Babelsberg studios is again attracting international movie producers. Despite the growing opportunities, "eastern Germany often doesn't have such a positive image, there are still prejudices," said Roepke. That extends to recruitment, where potential employees often have to first overcome an "initial reticence" stemming from the stereotype of eastern Germany as unattractive and backward.

A psychological barrier still exists mainly among Germans themselves, said Mertin, who hails from the western city of Cologne. From abroad, "Germany is viewed as a single strong entity," he said. And there are signs the situation is improving, with eastern regions having recently begun seeing a net gain in population, according to a Berlin research institute. But the struggle continues to close the economic gap with the west. At 8.6 percent, the unemployment rate in the east remains three percentage points higher than in the west, while gross output per inhabitant in 2015 was nearly 30 percent less than in western Germany. According to the Jenoptik boss, the main challenge is the absence of "big companies that have the potential of becoming international by themselves". None of Germany's 30 biggest listed enterprises are based in the east.

Given the economic divide, much of eastern Germany is fertile ground for the populist party AfD (Alternative for Germany), which accuses foreigners of stealing German jobs and faults globalisation for moving industry abroad. "The economic situation in Jena is relatively good, but 30 kilometres (19 miles) to the east, the situation is far worse," said Denny Jankowski, the AfD's candidate for Jena in the September general elections. He sees the gap between the east and west as wide as ever, and complains that many easterners are trapped in low-paying jobs. The AfD has also been railing against a record influx of around a million asylum-seekers in 2015, playing on fears that Germany would not be able to integrate the newcomers who make up about one percent of the country's population.

Better performing cities like Jena also suffer from the double-edged sword of rising rents as the population grows. There is a "kind of fear that people won't be able to maintain their standard of living", said Mertin, but he insisted that "in every change, there is an opportunity." Opinion polls suggest that one in five voters in Jena's state of Thuringia in favour of the AfD, while the national average is half that at around 10 percent. For Roepke, economic success alone is not enough to steer the population away from populist arguments. But he is hopeful that "when the economic situation leads a large part of the population to be satisfied with his or her situation, then there would be less of a need to look for scapegoats or simplistic solutions."


UK: Police urge action on hate crime as priest is attacked

31/3/2017- Police Scotland is encouraging Catholics across the country to report religious hate crime in a week in which an elderly parish priest in Dundee may have fallen victim to sectarian abuse. As part of a week-long awareness campaign, people in Scotland are being urged to call the police if they witness a hate crime taking place. In recent weeks St Columba’s Church in Kirkton, Dundee, has been subject to repeated acts of vandalism, including the spray painting of an obscene image on the side of the church, smashed windows, and slates being ripped off the roof. There have also been claims that roof slates were launched at 70-year-old Fr Neil Gallagher when he approached the vandals. The damage has left the parish with repair costs.

One member of the congregation, Martin MacGregor, told The Courier there was a potential sectarian element to the crime. “Fr Neil has had slates ripped off the roof and there has been lead stolen from the roof,” he said. “On Sunday night they smashed windows on the church house. When Fr Neil challenged them then there was lots of shouting and bawling in the street. We think it is local youths. “After Mass on Sunday someone even had stones thrown at their car as they left. Given that they are targeting a church there is potentially a sectarian element. To me, it’s a hate crime.”

Earlier this year, Sts John and Columba’s in Rosyth saw parishioners subjected to sectarian abuse and pelted with eggs as they arrived for Mass while an SCO investigation revealed that a Christian church was attacked every two weeks on average last year. Chief Superintendent Barry McEwan, head of Safer Communities, Police Scotland, said: “Hate crime of any description will not be tolerated in Scotland—it causes fear, isolation and a sense of helplessness for its victims and Police Scotland is committed to ensuring people feel safe in their own communities. Tackling hate crime is a key priority for our officers, however we can only address these problems if people report crimes to us. “Whether you are a victim or a witness, it is vitally important that you come forward.”

Hate crime can be reported to any police station, by calling 101, or through the Police Scotland website.
© The Scottish Catholic Observer


UK: Police clampdown on far-right & anti-fascist marches through London

Police have announced a clampdown on far-right protest marches planned through central London this weekend in order to prevent “violence, disorder and disruption”.

31/3/2017- Both the EDL and Britain First are preparing to take to the streets on Saturday following last week’s terror attack on Westminster by knifeman Khalid Masood. But the groups, who face a counter demo from Unite Against Fascism (UAF) on the same day, have been issued strict regulations by the Met. They must leave at set times and follow exact routes, obeying the instructions of police officers throughout. Participants can only join and leave the two marches at the designated start and finish point, while both rallies must finish by 3pm. Chief Superintendent Catherine Roper warned that any protesters who break the conditions imposed under Section 12 and 14 of the Public Order Act face arrest.

She said: "The right to protest is a fundamental right in our democratic society, but this right must be balanced against the right of people to go about their day without fear of violence, disorder or disruption. "Experience has shown us that when groups with conflicting views come together it can create tension and disorder, not just on the day itself but in the longer term. "If you want to protest on Saturday we ask that you do so peacefully, no matter what your view. We will adopt a robust arrest policy on anyone who attends and is intent on violence and disorder, or is in breach of these conditions." Fewer than 100 supporters are registered as attending the EDL protest, which will set off from Trafalgar Square towards the Victoria Embankment.

Britain First's march begins at Charing Cross station. The UAF counter protest is due to take place at Victoria Embankment as police aim to keep the two groups apart. The event page states: “UAF calls on anti fascists to join us in mass opposition to the fascists - our unity is our strength.”
© The Evening Standard.


UK: Fury as Britain’s biggest buy-to-let landlord bans ‘coloured’ people in racist rant

28/3/2017- Britain's biggest buy-to-let landlord has secretly banned “coloured” people — because he says they make his properties smell of curry. Millionaire Fergus Wilson issued the directive in an email to lettings agents Evolution, who handle some of his hundreds of rental properties. The email, which was leaked to The Sun, listed his requirements for potential tenants. One was: “No coloured people because of the curry smell at the end of the tenancy.” Mr Wilson, 70, was unrepentant when challenged about his ban. The landlord, who was once reported to own up to 1,000 properties in Kent, said: “To be honest, we’re getting overloaded with coloured people. “It is a problem with certain types of coloured people — those who consume curry — it sticks to the carpet.  “You have to get some chemical thing that takes the smell out. In extreme cases you have to replace the carpet.” When asked if he had told Evolution not to take “coloured” people, Mr Wilson said: “Certainly at one point we have.”

Anti-racism group Hope Not Hate yesterday said Mr Wilson’s comments were outrageous. It added: “You simply cannot treat people like this and deny them a place to live due to their skin colour. “If people such as this man continue to choose tenants on the basis of ethnicity he should face the full force of the law.” Police cannot prosecute Mr Wilson because he has not broken criminal law. But racial discrimination by landlords does breach civil law and they can be sued by tenants or tenants’ rights groups. Roy Fever, manager at Evolution Properties, said: “We don’t condone this at all. “We would never implement a policy like that. We put through anyone to the landlord and it is up to the landlord who they take on.” In January The Sun told how Mr Wilson had banned single mums, battered wives, plumbers and low income earners from renting his homes. At the time he defended his actions, saying: “Like any business, we are consistently fine tuning.” He refused to apologise after the list was shared on social media.

Mr Wilson is said to be selling his entire property portfolio for £250million.
© The Sun.


UK: Ten arrests after Edinburgh 'white pride' demo and counter-protest

Ten people have been arrested following a "white pride" fascist protest and a large counter-protest in Edinburgh.

26/3/2017- The demonstrations took place on Saturday afternoon in the capital, predominantly at Hunters Square and on the Royal Mile. They saw about 40 far-right protesters met by around 400 anti-fascist marchers. Police said three of the arrests related to religiously-aggravated offences and the remainder were for minor public order offences. The National Front was among the far-right groups backing the demo, which was billed as "Remembering our past, taking back our future" and part of a "worldwide" day of "white pride" action. Counter-protesters marched in their hundreds and held flags and signs aloft with messages such as: "Never again: No to the Nazis". Speakers at the counter-demo, organised by Unite Against Fascism, included SNP MP Tommy Sheppard and Labour MP Ian Murray. A spokesperson for Police Scotland said: "Edinburgh Division would like to thank local businesses and members of the public for their assistance and understanding during these events, which on the whole passed off peacefully."


Headlines 24 March, 2017

Croatia: US Holocaust Envoy Warns About Fascist Symbols

On a visit to Croatia, the US State Department envoy for Holocaust issues warned the authorities that symbols of the WWII fascist Ustasa movement are offensive to victims and their families.

24/3/2017- The US State Department envoy for Holocaust issues, Tom Yazdgerdi, visited Croatia on Thursday and Friday and expressed concern about the continued use of the slogan of the WWII fascist Ustasa movement in the country. Yazdgerdi said during his annual visit that a plaque with the Ustasa slogan ‘Za dom spremni’ (‘Ready for the Home(land)’) which was installed last year not far from the WWII concentration camp in Jasenovac was particularly problematic. “I think that symbols are important, we know that this plaque is especially offensive to the Holocaust survivors and their family members… It is hard, especially for the Holocaust survivors, to watch those symbols,” he told Croatian news agency, HINA on Thursday. Yazdgerdi met Justice Minister Ante Sprlje, Culture Minister Nina Obuljen Korzinek and officials from the foreign mnistry and the prime minister’s office to convey his views.

He said he hopes that the newly-formed government Council for Dealing with Consequences of the Rule of Non-Democratic Regimes will deal with the issue of the continued use of Ustasa symbols. He said that Croatia as a member of an intergovernmental organisation, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, has to ensure that the Holocaust is taught appropriately in schools and that concentration camps such as Jasenovac are appropriately commemorated. Yazdgerdi emphasised however that the US “won’t tell the Croatian government how to act” and said that the government “mostly reacts” to problematic issues related to the Ustasa legacy. Representatives of Croatia’s 2,000-strong Jewish community have decided to boycott this year’s official state commemoration at Jasenovac in April, arguing the government hasn’t acted to stop the display of fascist symbols.

The Jewish community boycotted the commemoration last year as well, for similar reasons. It has also boycotted the state-organised commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day in January, again citing the same reasons. At the foreign ministry on Thursday, Yazdgerdi discussed the issue of returning Jewish property seized during WWII. The confiscations under Ustasa rule were part of a process known as the ‘Aryanisation of property’, in which the property of Serbs, Jews and Roma was given to ethnic Croats according to racial laws passed in 1941 and modelled upon Nazi legislation. It is currently impossible to get restitution for property confiscated under Ustasa rule. Yazdgerdi said that there has been progress on the issue but described it as “rather slow”. “Our main message: we would like the government to speed up the process. Why? Because survivors [of the Holocaust] are dying every day,” he urged.

Yazdgerdi went to visit the memorial site in Jasenovac with Culture Minister Obuljen Korzinek on Friday. Unlike last year’s visit, when Yazgerdi’s predecessor, Nicholas Dean met Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic and the prime minister at the time, Tihomir Oreskovic, this year the US envoy met lower-ranking officials. The Croatian WWII fascist Ustasa movement passed racial laws against Serbs, Jews and Roma – modelled upon Nazi legislature – and persecuted them, along with anti-fascists. Over 83,000 of them perished in the biggest concentration camp, Jasenovac, which is located in central Croatia.
© Balkan Insight


Poland draws link between London attack and EU migrant policy

23/3/2017- Poland's prime minister drew a link on Thursday between an attack in London targeting the British parliament and the European Union's migrant policy, saying the assault vindicated Warsaw's refusal to take in refugees. Five people, including the attacker, were killed and about 40 injured on Wednesday after a car plowed into pedestrians near the British parliament. Police believe the attack was "Islamist-related", but have given no details about the attacker, who they say was acting alone. Poland's right-wing, eurosceptic government has refused to accept any of the 6,200 migrants allocated to it under the European Union's quota scheme that is designed to share the burden of taking in the large numbers of migrants and refugees who have come to Europe over the past two years. "I hear in Europe very often: do not connect the migration policy with terrorism, but it is impossible not to connect them," Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo told private broadcaster TVN24.

Earlier this week the EU's migration commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, on a visit to Warsaw, warned member states against failing to host refugees to help alleviate pressure on frontline states bearing the brunt of arrivals across the Mediterranean. "The commissioner should concentrate on what to do to avoid such acts as yesterday in London ... Poland will not succumb to blackmail such as that expressed by the commissioner," Szydlo said. "The commissioner is coming to Warsaw and trying to tell us: you have to do what the EU decided, you have to take these migrants .... Two days later another terrorist attack in London occurs," she said. The leader of Szydlo's ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), Jaroslaw Kaczynski, said back in 2015 that refugees could bring diseases and parasites to Poland, which is staunchly Roman Catholic and has very few Muslim immigrants. The migrant issue is just one of several over which Poland is at odds with the EU. Also on Thursday Szydlo said Poland might not accept a declaration EU leaders are due to endorse in Rome this month that will chart the bloc's course after Britain leaves unless it addresses issues Warsaw considers crucial.
© Reuters


Poland: Football discrimination overlooked

Source: NEVER AGAIN Association
The big story in Polish and perhaps international football this week is again the discriminatory behaviour of Polish Football Federation (PZPN) chairman, Zbigniew Boniek.

23/3/2017- When Polish top division (Ekstraklasa) female spokesperson Karolina Hytrek-Prosiecka suggested a meeting with Boniek, he replied publicly on Twitter: “When discussing football we don't need baba [a derogatory term for women]”. When numerous commentators, including Ms Prosiecka, expressed their indignation and demanded apologies, Boniek said: “It was funny. It was a joke but not everybody was able to understand it because not everybody is equally intelligent”. Ms Prosiecka commented: “It is pure discrimination (...) I would not be concerned about such comments if they didn't come from the PZPN chairman and a prospective candidate for the UEFA Executive Committee”. The story is described by, among others, the Polish edition of Newsweek and many other leading media.

Boniek previously engaged in a vicious public witch-hunt against the anti-racism NGO 'NEVER AGAIN' Association. He was unfortunately not disciplined by UEFA. The FARE network’s statement said at the time: “Comments by the President of the PZPN, Zbigniew Boniek, posted on his Twitter account in reaction to a sanction imposed by UEFA on KKS Lech Poznan, go beyond the acceptable terms of legitimate debate about issues of discrimination and are not in keeping with the position of the President of the Polish FA. Boniek has also posted a picture of a prominent member of Never Again and retweeted a link to a far-right website. These actions have resulted in a campaign of hate and serious threats against one of our long-standing Polish partners.

It is clear that Never Again has been picked out because of its work in the area of tackling racism and far right activity in football and because it has had involvement in the FARE match observer system in European football.” Remarkably, Boniek stands a good chance of being elected to the UEFA Executive Committee on 5 April.
© HOPE not Hate


France: Who are the 8 million voters expected to back Marine Le Pen?

Who are they, where are they, and what matters most to the record number of voters expected to back Marine Le Pen?

23/3/2017- Polls suggest some 65 percent of France's 47 million voters on the electoral roll will cast a vote on April 23rd in the first round of the presidential election. Currently some 26 percent of those voters are expected to back the far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen. That means almost 8 million (7,943,000 to be more precise). And that's just the first round. So who are the many millions of French expected to back a candidate whose divisive policies, and even any mention even of her surname, seem to spark fear and loathing among France’s mainstream political parties and much of the media? And where do they live in France?

Southern stronghold
It was in the southern Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA) region where former party chief Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine’s father, built up support in the 1970s among those French settlers returning from Algeria who opposed Algeria's independence. They found a common cause with apologists for the wartime Vichy regime's collaboration with Nazi Germany. Le Pen is expected to pull in 36 percent of voters in the PACA region in the first round of the election– that’s more than in any other region of France. “PACA is a land of immigration but also one where social inequalities are the highest,” Christèle Marchand-Lagier, a political scientist and expert on the National Front, told The Local. "Here Le Pen supporters are generally middle class and are tired of paying taxes to provide for the poor, who they believe to be immigrants.”

The old leftist north
Second to PACA, the northern region of Hauts de France is ready to massively support the FN with some 34 percent of voters set to back Le Pen in the first round. “The FN bastions in the north correspond to the former leftist areas,” French political scientist Marchand-Lagier tells The Local. “Like in the south, the mainstream political class has been discredited. The economic devastation in northern France's old industrial belt has spread the idea that traditional political parties are powerless," she added. It is in this region where many disillusioned former leftist working class voters now think Marine Le Pen is their best option. Far northern France, in particular around the Channel ports, deeply affetced by the migrant crisis, also turned out strongly for Le Pen in 2015 elections. Her party got 50 percent of the vote in Calais.

The Gaullist East
With 33 percent of voters intending to back Le Pen, the newly formed Grand Est region comes in third place in the table of the National Front's bastions. The reasons why the east has fallen for Le Pen vary. Analysts point out it has always been very right leaning, with Gaullist nationalist politicians repeatedly coming out on top in elections. National identity, the crux of Le Pen's appeal, is important here given the history of the region having fought to stay part of France. Others experts point to neighbouring Germany’s decision to take in hundreds of thousands of refugees, which has stoked fears of immigration among voters in the east. Her calls to close France's borders fall on sympathetic ears. On top of that, parts of the east, particularly Lorraine, have suffered the same rapid de-industrialization that helped boost Le Pen’s vote in the north.

'Peripheral France'
While the National Front enjoys firm support in several specific regions there is also a demographic spread out across France where voters are more and more likely to turn out for Le Pen. Author and geographer Christophe Guilluy describes these areas as “peripheral France” or "La France périphérique". Essentially they are the isolated and unloved and lifeless, small to mid-sized towns and outer suburbs with a mainly white working class population, where jobs and livelihoods have been eroded. "It's the vast, hidden, forgotten part of the country," he said, far from the globalized and thriving city centres. “These people have the feeling of participating in globalization without benefiting from any of its advantages,” said one French MP discussing the phenomenon. Hence Marine Le Pen’s protectionist message strikes a chord. It is here where voters have lost faith in the mainstream centre-right and center-left political parties and the refrain of "we've tried them, so why not Le Pen" is often repeated.

A look at certain groups of voters:

Young people
Daily polls by Ifop suggest as many as a third of young voters will vote for Marine Le Pen. In the 2015 regional elections more young voters turned out for the National Front than any other party, although many young people simply abstained. One poll showed a majority of those young National Front voters were motivated by a need for change. With youth unemployment reaching 25 percent in parts and permanent jobs hard to come by, the young generation of Le Pen voters believe only she can give them any chance of matching the living standards and pensions that their parents enjoy. The young generation has also grown up with the euro crisis and the fear of Islamist extremist terrorism, two things Marine Le Pen wants to tackle head on. “Young people are the first victims of economic austerity, massive unemployment, market deregulation, insecurity and Islamic fundamentalism”, said 22 year-old Gaëtan Dussausaye from “Les jeunes avec Marine” (“Young people with Marine”). The more sanitized image of the National Front among young voters might play a role too. They are less likely to associate the party with the expelled former leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has numerous convictions for hate-speech and Holocaust denial.

Working classes
Several recent polls suggest Marine Le Pen will pull in some 45 percent of the working class vote, that's despite the inclusion of three leftist candidates on the ballot papers all of whom claim to represent the classe ouvrière. The shifting support of the working classes from the left to far right has been taking place since the late 1980s. As in the case of Donald Trump and the UK's Brexit voters the working classes feel they have lost the most through globalization, rapid de-industrialization and immigration. They feel let down by consecutive governments, in particular left-wing governments, who have failed to improve their prospects over the years.

Another group of voters Le Pen has been reeling in in recent years is women. According to an Opinion Way poll published in December 2015 the number of women National Front voters has jumped three-fold since Marine Le Pen took over the flame from her father in 2011. Marine Le Pen has used her position as a single mother of three to push her image among women voters. Working class women struggling to get by and housewives make up an important part of her electorate. She has portrayed herself as the protector against Islamic fundamentalism and its threat to women’s rights. Valerie Igounet, a historian who spent two years talking to National Front voters told The Huffington Post: "The true novelty of Marine Le Pen’s National Front is the vote of women". Feminist groups are quick to slam any suggestion a Le Pen victory would be good for women.

The eurosceptics
Although the French public have the choice of another staunchly anti-EU candidate in Jean-Luc Melenchon as well as other minor candidates, Marine Le Pen is seen by France's eurosceptics as being their one real hope. She has said in the past she wants to see the EU "explode" and after Brexit, a Le Pen victory would probably do just that. A poll carried out in March 2016, months before the Brexit referendum, revealed anti-EU sentiment was even higher among the French than the British. From the open borders, to Germany's dominance of the eurozone, some French voters have reason to dislike the EU. So when Le Pen chose her allotted time at the end of the first live TV debate to launch into another tirade against the EU for strangling France's chances of reform she knew she was tapping into fertile ground.

Other minority groups of voters...

Gay people
While the gay vote may not provide such a huge pool of votes for Le Pen, the increased support among parts of the LGBT community for the far-right party is nevertheless a phenomenon that shows the way the National Front has softened its image. Le Pen's party has been accused of deeply reactionary views with a history of homophobia but many gay people fear the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in France and believe the far-right party is the best defence against it. Polls showed that 32.5 percent of gay couples voted for the National Front in the 2015 regional elections. Another poll in 2015 showed 26 percent of homosexuals in Paris supported the party, compared with 16 percent of heterosexuals. While many in her party were against gay marriage, Le Pen stayed fairly silent on the issue. Erick Pennacchio, 43, who lives with his partner Arnaud in Perpignan and works as a salesman told The Local: “The National Front is the only bulwark against the growing Islamism in our country. Gay people are an easy target to Islamic fundamentalists".

Muslims and immigrants
Given Le Pen’s aggressive rhetoric towards radical Islam and immigration in general you’d expect to be able to count the number of Muslim National Front voters on one hand. But Le Pen, who is often at pains to make it clear she has no problem with Islam itself, does have some support among the immigrant Muslim minority, albeit marginal - another sign her de-demonization of the party has successfully opened it up to new voters. These voters often find extremist Islam and communalism as distasteful as Le Pen does. In the 2015 regional elections the National Front made a special effort to woo Muslim voters in the poor Paris suburbs. “We’ll tell them they’re as French as the others,” was the message. Le Pen reckons her tough stance on law and order and positioning of the party as the real representative of the working classes, immigrants included, will help boost her vote among the Muslim community. According to Le Point magazine some 4 percent of immigrant Muslim voters opted for Le Pen in the first round of the 2012 election, but that number is expected to jump this time round.

Jewish voters
France’s Jewish community, believed to be around half a million strong, is another minority group of voters Le Pen has fairly successfully targeted. In 2012, polls suggest she pulled in 13.5 percent of the Jewish vote. While that doesn’t sound like a great deal, it needs to be remembered that the National Front was seen as a party riddled with anti-Semitism, whose former leader Jean-Marie Le Pen has been convicted of Holocaust denial. Again Marine Le Pen’s efforts to soften the party image have helped, as has her determination to position the party as the true protectors of the Jewish community from Islamist fundamentalism. The Islamist-inspired terror attacks that targeted the Jewish community in Toulouse in 2013 and Paris in 2015 left the Jewish community nervous as did the anti-Israel riots of summer 2014. Ifop pollster Jerôme Fourquet said these combined factors have helped Le Pen break through the previously solid barrier that blocked her from the Jewish vote.

Extremist 'Identitarian' groups
While they are small in number, the 'Identitaire' extremist groups whose members, often shaven headed, violent and openly racist, are people long associated with the National Front. Marine Le Pen has tried to purge these groups from her party and as a result many quit their association with the National Front. But there have been efforts to reintegrate them in recent months. While Marine Le Pen may not be extreme enough for these groups, the most well known being Generation Identitaire, they do have in common their hostility towards Islam, as seen when they stormed a new mosque in Poitiers in 2012.
© The Local - France


Le Pen’s Dutch bummer

3 takeaways for the French far-right leader from Europe’s first major election of 2017.

19/3/2017- At a rally with European allies in January, French far-right leader Marine Le Pen predicted the Continent would “rise up” in 2017 as the Anglo-Saxon world had done last year by voting for Brexit and Donald Trump. So far, the populist uprising hasn’t gone to plan. Geert Wilders was meant to lead the charge by winning last week’s Dutch parliamentary election — but he came in a distant second, far below his poll numbers from only a few weeks ago, and will have no role in the next government. Le Pen herself is next into ring, in the most important European vote this year: France’s presidential election, which takes place over two rounds on April 23 and May 7. There are many differences between the Netherlands and France but as Le Pen and her staff examine the Dutch vote, here are three sobering conclusions they may draw.

1. EU-bashing has its limits
The Dutch were in a tetchily Euroskeptic mood in the days after Britain’s Brexit vote, with nearly half saying they wanted out of the EU. But the anti-Brussels mood has since cooled. A poll by TNS Nipo for Deutsche bank in February showed a whopping 79 percent of Dutch voters did not agree the Netherlands would be better off outside the EU. In the final stretch of campaigning, Wilders tried to roll back his call for a Nexit referendum. It was too late. Le Pen should take note. The Dutch vote marks the second time in a year that a Euroskeptic candidate came up short on polling day. Last December, far-right candidate Norbert Hofer lost Austria’s presidential runoff. His supporters blamed arch-Brexiteer Nigel Farage for suggesting that Austria would hold a referendum on leaving the EU if Hofer won. Given that polls in France show a rising majority in favor of EU membership, and an even higher share in favor of staying in the euro, Le Pen is trying to tone down her own Frexit proposal. Yet she, too, is branded with the Euroskeptic seal, and her efforts to change tack with a plan that would somehow combine a revived franc with a single European currency have left voters confused.

2. Statesmanship sells
At the height of a standoff between The Hague and Ankara over campaigning for next month’s Turkish referendum, polls showed both Wilders and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte winning points. But it was Rutte who ultimately faced down Turkey, giving him the kind of boost an incumbent often wins in a time of a crisis. In France, outgoing President François Hollande is not running for reelection. But concerns about competence, professionalism and executive skill have long dogged Le Pen, who faces former Prime Minister François Fillon and ex-presidential aide turned Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron in the race for the presidency. While voters rate the National Front president very highly on metrics such as “sincerity,” “desire to change” or ability to “understand them,” nearly two-thirds of voters said that she was “worrying,” according to an Elabe poll conducted in February. The scandal-tainted Fillon also rated highly on the worry-meter, while Macron registered lower at 41 percent, according to the poll.

3. It’s all or nothing
Although Wilders fell far short of the 40 seats polls suggested he could win just a few weeks ago, he can at least take some comfort from having made gains. His party’s total of 20 seats was up five on the last election in 2012. This consolation prize offers no solace for Le Pen. In the presidential election, she must secure a majority of votes in the second-round runoff to get to the Elysée Palace. And while polls consistently predict she will top the first round with about 26 percent of the vote, they all show her losing heavily in the runoff to Macron. If Fillon shakes off scandal to make it to the runoff instead of Macron, she is still predicted to lose. Even the parliamentary election due in June may not offer much consolation. Unlike the Netherlands, France does not use a proportional voting system and the National Front has long struggled to win a significant number of seats in parliament. Anything less than victory in the presidential election would leave National Front scrambling for a small number of seats — while fighting a number of pending legal cases related to the party’s financing.
© Politico EU


Europe's treatment of child refugees 'risks increasing radicalisation threat'

Highly critical report from Council of Europe says current system is unable to cope with sheer number of children fleeing conflict

22/3/2017- Europe’s “abysmal” treatment of refugee children, who have made up about a third of those seeking asylum on the continent over the last two years, will increase the danger of their later radicalisation and drift into criminality, a damning report from the Council of Europe has said. A system that allows the sexual and physical abuse of children in overcrowded detention centres, where they are often separated from their families, will only condemn Europe to trouble in the future the report warns. About 30% of asylum seekers arriving in Europe in the last two years were children, according to a report from the Council of Europe’s special representative of the secretary general on migration and refugees, Tomáš Boček. Nearly 70% of these children were fleeing conflict in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. The number of unaccompanied children who applied for asylum in the European Union reached 96,465 in 2015 and they accounted for almost a quarter of all asylum applicants under 18 years of age.

Yet Boček found a system that was unable to cope with the sheer scale of the numbers, and where separated children were not even being properly registered. Local authorities were not doing enough to prevent children being forced into slavery, inappropriately treated by the police, or pushed into arranged marriages while on European soil. Boček told the Guardian: “What these children are going through will define who they will become. And it will also define, in some respects, our common future. “I saw children who had become upset, yes, and angry. But also apathetic. It makes these children more vulnerable. Perhaps to radicalisation.” In his report, Boček says efforts to relocate refugee children out of detention centres, including those made by the British government have come to little. Theresa May faced a storm of protest last month when the British government ended its commitment to provide a safe haven for thousands of vulnerable lone child refugees in Europe after only 350 were brought to the UK.

It had been hoped that as many as 3,000 children would benefit under the scheme conceded by David Cameron in May last year after a public outcry. Boček says in his report that the original scheme should have been better implemented, and he added that “more should be done”. The report, based on visits to detention centres and camps in Greece, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Turkey, France and Italy, warns: “Migrants and refugees are exposed to violence not only at the hands of smugglers and traffickers, but also as a result of state action and inaction. “For example, the [special representative] was concerned to learn on one of his missions that children caught vending or begging were arrested and detained. “This is not an appropriate response: rather, child protection measures should be put in place. There were also allegations of sexual harassment and abuse of children in some camps the [special representative] visited and of disproportionate use of force by the police.”

The report adds: “State actors should ensure that their interventions do no harm to children. “Additionally, states should work to prevent child labour, such as the exploitation of Syrian children in the textile industry and agriculture. “States also need to develop appropriate responses to harmful practices and survival strategies such as early and forced marriages, which appear to be an increasing phenomenon.” The report says that while immigration detention is never in the best interests of the child, migrant and refugee children are “detained and many are separated from a parent who is placed in immigration detention”. It adds that the the task of addressing the situation of the refugee and migrant children recently arrived in Europe will demand concerted efforts for “many years to come”.

In the short term, Boček says, children will be better served by simply by raising basic standards. He writes: “With regard to minimum living conditions in camps, practical measures such as gender-separate sanitary facilities, better lighting and child-friendly spaces not only make a huge difference for children’s wellbeing, but may also eliminate risks of sexual abuse.”
© The Guardian.


Germany to compensate victims of anti-gay laws

The government cabinet has approved legislation to make amends to men convicted under a law banning homosexuality after the Second World War. Germany's Justice Minister called the initiative "long overdue."

22/3/2017- The German government is putting forward legislation to compensate men convicted under the country's infamous Paragraph 175 of the criminal code, which made male homosexuality a punishable offense and which was only completely repealed in 1994. Those convicted faced lengthy jail sentences and life-long social stigma. The Justice Ministry expects some 5,000 victims of the discriminatory legal clause to apply for compensation. If the new legislation is approved, they'll be able to claim 3,000 euros ($3,238) compensation plus an additional 1,500 euros for every year they served in prison. German Justice Minister Heiko Maas said the government would ensure that legal pardons and compensation proceeded swiftly due to the advanced age of many victims.

"The rehabilitation of men who were brought up before the courts solely because of their homosexuality is long overdue," Maas said in Berlin on Wednesday. "They were pursued, punished and reviled by the German state just because of their love of other men, because of their sexual identity." Maas said the legislation would go before the German lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, before the current legislative period ends in June. Prospects for its passage are good. The opposition Left Party and the Greens are also in favor of rehabilitating and compensating Paragraph 175 victims. The government Anti-Discrimination Agency said that recent public opinion polls show a clear majority of respondents supported the legislation as well.

A long history of discrimination
Paragraph 175 was formulated in 1871, but it was rarely enforced until the Nazi regime expanded it to make homosexual acts of all sorts between men into felonies. The law was retained in both West and East Germany after World War II. Estimates of the number of victims vary, but over 50,000 men were convicted in West Germany under Paragraph 175 between 1945 and 1994, when it was finally stricken from the criminal code. Lesbianism was never banned under the law. Victims of the legislation in Nazi Germany were legally rehabilitated in 2002, but those convicted after the war didn't receive similar pardons. Legislation to redress that injustice has taken quite some time. After pressure from activists, Maas announced that his ministry would begin drafting a rehabilitation law in the middle of last year, and 30 million euros were earmarked for victims' compensation in late 2016.

"It was a very complicated matter legally because it requires the legislature to overrule the Federal Constitutional Court," Markus Ulrich, the spokesman for the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany (LSVD), told Deustche Welle. "But when a conservative external evaluator found last year that the government not only could draft legislation but had a duty to do so, that really got the ball rolling." Maas acknowledged that in essence, the German state was admitting that the German state had previously acted unjustly. "The strength of a state of law is reflected in having the strength to correct its own mistakes," the Justice Minister said. "We have not only the right but the obligation to do something."

Advocates pleased, opposition wants more
Gay advocacy groups welcomed the proposed legislation. Jörg Litwinshuch, operative chairman of the Magnus Hirschfeld Foundation, named after the Germany gay rights activist, called the draft law "a significant milestone in rehabilitating the victims of Paragraph 175." The LSVD also greeted the announcement positively. "After many long decades of ignorance, legal and political consequences have finally been drawn from severe mass human rights violations committed by a democratic state against homosexual people," association spokesman Helmut Metzner said. But both the LSVD and the opposition parties would like to see the state offer more compensation to Paragraph 175 victims for the injustice they were subjected to.

"The compensation rules as they've been laid out are quite unsatisfactory," Left Party LGBTI issues spokesman Harald Petzold said in a statement. "The Left Party is calling for adequate and fair compensation. That's why we're demanding an individual payment of 9,125 euros and the introduction of a special pension for victims." The Greens had a similar view of the situation. "The damage to people's careers and pensions has to be taken into account," the Green Party demanded in its official statement. "Unfortunately, until now, these considerations have been excluded. The Bundestag will have to introduce improvements here." The draft legislation will be sent to parliamentary committees, which can make amendments, before it is put before the Bundestag as a whole for approval. Should the Left Party and the Greens get their way, the costs could be well in excess of the 30 million euros allocated last year.
© The Deutsche Welle*


German right-wing Identitarians 'becoming radicalized'

The right-wing "Identitarian Movement" is becoming more active and more radical, according to the head of German domestic intelligence. The Identitarians themselves call themselves "patriotic."

20/3/2017- The head of Germany's domestic intelligence agency has warned that the country's far-right "Identitarian Movement" (IBD) is becoming increasingly radicalized. "There are several indications of contacts and intertwining of the 'Identitarians' with far-right people or groups, so that we are working on the assumption that there is a far-right influence," Hans-Georg Maassen, head of the Bundesverfassungsschutz (BfV), told the Funke Media Group newspapers on Sunday. This "increasing radicalization," he added, was likely to take the form of spontaneous, provocative actions aimed at political parties, mosques, and Islamic cultural centers, or homes for asylum seekers.

Germany's intelligence agencies keep the Identitarian Movement under surveillance - as they do all radical groups deemed a threat to Germany's political order - and say they have noticed increased activity among its 300 members in Germany (the group itself says it has 500 members). Identitarian activists have mounted high-profile publicity stunts in recent months - most famously, a handful scaled the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on August 27 last year (as the government was holding an open day), and hung a banner on the monument that read "Secure borders, secure future."

Protecting Europe's identity
The Identitarian Movement, which calls itself a "meta-political project," began life in 2002 in France and has grown into a pan-European youth movement that claims its purpose is to protect European identity. It argues that its targets are not immigrants and refugees, but the "fatal incentive policy of the political and social elites that is at least indirectly forcing immigration streams because of the ideological misconception of the multicultural social experiment." As such, the group delivered a withering response to Maassen's interview, posting a sarcastic statement on its Facebook profile accusing the BfV and "much of German media" of becoming increasingly radicalized.

"We can only comment on it ironically, because Maassen is doing publicity work for his authority that is completely without substance," said Daniel Fiss, a movement spokesman. "He says there are supposed networks, but he can't name these networks - apparently it's so secret that his own authority doesn't know about them." "It's made up - it's really pure fairy-tale logic," he told DW, before speculating that, since the BfV is run by the interior ministry, it is not always politically neutral. He also said that the group was considering taking "legal steps" against the surveillance.

Definitely not Nazis...
Fiss, who belongs to the leadership of the German movement, said the group rejected all association with the far-right. "Of course we see ourselves as patriotic youth tied to our homeland, but we show a clear separation from far-right extremism," he said. "So if far-right extremists try to take up contact, we refuse them immediately. We have often emphasized our rejection of the nationalism of the 19th and 20th centuries - for us patriotism cannot be equated to that." Fiss defines far-right extremists as "people who openly or confidentially show certain sympathies to the Third Reich or National Socialism, or work in an openly racist way by putting their biological group above other groups."

And yet, despite Fiss' protests, there is no doubt that the Identitarian Movement thinks in racial terms: its website talks about "building up a self-confident relationship to one's own ethno-cultural identity." Nor are the BfV's latest suspicions new: In 2015, the Berlin Interior Ministry concluded that the Identitarian Movement was part of a network of other German far-right groups in the German capital - including the National Democratic Party (NPD), Hooligans Against Salafists (HoGeSa), and Pro Deutschland - who had formed an "action unit" targeting refugees.

Fiss' arguments don't convince Johannes Baldauf, a specialist on the movement at the Amadeu-Antonio-Stiftung, an NGO that tracks far-right activity in Germany. "There is a difference - it's not traditional far-right extremism, it's the 'New Right,'" he told DW. "It was just a historical thing - they split from each other in the 1960s or so: they said we can't use National Socialism, we need to advance, and be more intellectual. But content-wise it's exactly the same things that we know from classical racism - they just label it differently."

That's why, Baldauf explained, the Identitarians emphasize "cultural identity" rather than "race." "Racism isn't defined via a constructed race, but via culture or identity - that's what they say needs to be defended," he said. "It's called cultural racism, but it's still racism. They talk about identity, but that's very vague - it can mean everything and nothing - but of course background always plays a role. How is identity even constructed? They say themselves - they only want French people in France and Germans in Germany."

AfD ambiguity
Even Germany's biggest right-wing nationalist party, the Alternative for Germany (AfD), has previously shown cold feet about the movement - albeit ambiguously. Last summer, the AfD issued a resolution officially rejecting cooperation with the IBD. This line was soon softened by the more radical wing of the AfD. In an interview with the right-wing magazine "Compact," deputy party leader Alexander Gauland suggested it was just a matter of primacy: "We are the AfD, we're the original," he said, so therefore he didn't see why "we should work with the Identitarian Movement, because they can all come to us."

At the end of January, the AfD came clean. Thorsten Weiss, chairman of the Berlin branch of the AfD's youth organization Junge Alternative (JA), confirmed that some of its members were working together with the IBD. Weiss, an AfD representative in the Berlin state parliament, told local broadcaster RBB that it was "not at all reprehensible" that AfD and IBD members "attended each other's events or took part in demonstrations together." He added that IBD members "don't have a very different mentality to us, they just express it differently."

For what it's worth, there is no doubt that Germany's myriad of right-wing movements see plenty of overlap between the IBD and the AfD. Last June, a right-wing blog called the "Patriotic Platform" wrote, "We would like to see closer cooperation between the Identitarian Movement and the AfD, because the AfD is also an identitarian movement, and the Identitarian Movement is also an alternative for Germany."
© The Deutsche Welle*


Ireland: Treatment of Muslims a ‘worry’, says European report

A European report on Islamophobia has referred to “worrying developments” in the treatment and perception of Muslims in Ireland.

23/3/2017- The Irish chapter of the new European Islamophobia Report 2016 also criticises media coverage of events involving Muslims. The Irish chapter of the report was written by James Carr, lecturer in sociology at the University of Limerick, who cited the lack of hate-crime legislation and the potential for exclusion of Muslims within the Irish education system. He also wrote: “The past twelve months have witnessed, arguably, the most worrying developments on the political level, when it comes to anti-Muslim/Islam groups, including PEGIDA, and also the National Party, among others; including pronouncements by mainstream political actors.” Referring to “a paucity of data” in relation to hate crime, Mr Carr said he wrote to the Central Statistics Office (CSO) for figures on the number of incidents involving Muslims, but it was not available.

Instead, he refers to reports collected by the European Network Against Racism Ireland (ENAR), which this week released half-yearly figures. These show an increase in the number of reports of alleged racism it has received. The report also referred to abuse on social media and of “problematic” reporting in mainstream media, with Mr Carr claiming that “even those articles that evidenced some nuance continue to co-locate the word “Islamic” with terms such as “terror attack”; “terrorists”; “extremists”. Meanwhile, the president of the European Jewish Congress, Moshe Kantor, said he was “alarmed” by the reported weaknesses in criminal law in Ireland and in the training of gardaí in dealing with racism, and also by the level of statutory support for victims. Responding to the ENAR’s Report of Racism in Ireland, Mr Kantor said: “I am alarmed by the data presented by the ENAR that highlights not just an increase in hate crime in Ireland, but weaknesses in the current system for dealing with racism and supporting victims.”
© The Irish Examiner


Ireland: "Alarming growth" in reports of racism

ENAR Ireland's racism reporting system has recorded the highest number of racist incidents since the system went online

21/3/2017- There has been an “alarming growth” in the number of racist incidences in Ireland over the past six months, according to a new report. The study from the European Network against Racism Ireland (ENAR Ireland) examined reports of racism and hate crimes received through their confidential reporting system – ENAR Ireland has been collecting reports through the “fully confidential and independent, civil-society based” website since July 2013. According to Dr Lucy Michael of Ulster University - who authored the report - the latest data “represents a much higher level of reporting than the previous six-month period, and a significantly higher level than all previously recorded periods.” There were 245 racist incidences reported over the past six months - 55 more than in the previous period. At least 155 of these were recorded as being alleged criminal offences – including violence and threats to kill or cause serious injury.

Over the past six months the reporting system recorded:
155 alleged criminal offences (excluding any repeated offences).
98 incidents of verbal abuse (some of which may qualify as criminal offences).
57 incidents involving alleged illegal discrimination.
Six cases included alleged offences of criminal damage caused by graffiti, as well as alleged offences of incitement to hatred in all 6 cases.
66 cases concerning alleged incitement to hatred and alleged offences in media and social media publications.

Dr Michael’s report also addresses the impact on victims and found “continuing low levels” of confidence in An Garda Síochána and response levels from the criminal justice system. “The high number of reports that indicate that the incidents are part of an ongoing pattern of racism, particularly those which have escalated to violence over a period of time, demonstrate that Garda efforts to tackle racism before it escalates need to improve” said Dr Michael.

Inter-generational and embedded racism
ENAR Ireland has warned that half of the victims included in the report are Irish citizens - demonstrating the, “inter-generational and embedded nature of racism against minorities in Ireland.” The group’s director Shane O’Curry said the Irish state currently “lacks the tools and resources needed to combat racism.” “The report clearly shows that we in Ireland are not immune to the Brexit and Trump effects,” he said. “When racist violence and dehumanising attitudes against minorities are not treated seriously, hate speech from overseas finds fertile ground in Ireland.” “The result is an alarming growth in racist hate crimes in this period in the short and medium term. The longer term damage is untold”

He said legislators need to become more pro-active in confronting racism and called on the government to “provide leadership in shaping the kind of policies which can allow us to live in a Republic that cherishes us all equally.” “In terms of our EU and international obligations, Ireland is delinquent in not having Hate Crime Legislation,” he said. “We need to address this urgently.” He said the country also needs a "coherent vision and strategy" in the form of a National Action Plan against Racism.

ENAR Ireland coordinates a network of over 40 civil society organisations working to combat racism in Ireland.
© News Talk


Italy: RAI cancels talk show over charges of racism and sexism

Show featured Italian men discussing merits of east European women

20/3/2017- Italian state television RAI said today it was scrapping a popular weekly talk show after the programme was widely attacked for using racist and sexist stereotypes about east European women. A furore erupted on social media and among politicians after the programme, Let's discuss it on Saturday (Parliamone Sabato) featured a debate about why Italian men had good reason to choose east European women over Italian ones. RAI's director general Antonio Dall'Orto said the Saturday afternoon show "undoubtedly contradicted" RAI's values, while Andrea Fabiano, head of the RAI 1 channel that broadcasts the programme, offered his "sincere apologies for what happened." Thousands of women from Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Romania and other eastern European countries have migrated to Italy over the last 20 years, often working as domestic helpers. Many have married Italian men.

Among alleged advantages of eastern European women cited by the show were that, unlike their Italian counterparts, they are "always sexy and don't wear baggy pyjamas" and they "forgive unfaithfulness". It also debated other claims such as that, unlike Italians, they "learn how to do housework from a young age" and were "willing to let their man take the decisions." Several senior politicians expressed outrage at the programme. "It's unacceptable that in a television programme women are presented like domestic animals to be appreciated for their meekness, obedience and subservience," said Chamber of Deputies speaker Laura Boldrini. Popular discontent towards RAI has grown since a recent reform by former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi incorporated the licence fee in people's electricity bills, making it much harder to avoid paying it.
© The Times of Malta


Austria: Polls show erosion of far-right Freedom Party's lead

20/3/2017- The far-right Freedom Party's lead in opinion polls over the Social Democrats in Austria has shrunk to within the margin of error after more than a year of dominance marked by Europe's migration crisis, several recent surveys have shown. The latest survey, by pollster Market for newspaper Der Standard published on Monday, had similar findings to other recent polls, showing the Freedom Party (FPO) on 30 percent, the Social Democrats (SPO) on 29 percent, and the SPO's coalition partner, the conservative People's Party (OVP), on 20 percent. The shift is a fresh blow to the anti-immigration FPO after its candidate lost a close-fought presidential run-off election last year. The party had hoped to ride a populist wave after Britain's vote to leave the European Union.

Movements in support for far-right parties are being closely watched across Europe. The anti-Islam, anti-EU party of Dutch politician Geert Wilders took second place in an election last week, while National Front leader Marine Le Pen is expected to reach the second round of France's presidential vote in May. The Austrian poll findings suggest the centrist coalition government, or at least Chancellor Christian Kern's SPO, is gaining traction with a new policy program aimed at eroding FPO support, which includes a ban on Muslim face-covering veils and a range of security measures. The next parliamentary election is due in autumn 2018 but regular squabbling between the coalition parties has led many voters to see the government as ineffective and prompted speculation that it will collapse, which would force a snap election.

The new coalition agreement reached in January made that seem less likely, but each disagreement between ministers from different parties revives debate about whether the coalition will complete its term as Kern says he expects it to. Until recently, polls consistently showed the FPO had a clear lead over the SPO, often with support of roughly a third. Respondents are usually asked how they would vote if a parliamentary were held within a week. Opinion polls in Austria often have a small sample size and a large margin of error. The Market study carried out on March 15-17 was relatively typical, with a sample of 412 and a margin of error of 5 percentage points. Other surveys published this month have shown the FPO on 31 and 33 percent, and the SPO consistently on 29 percent, with the OVP between 19 and 22 percent.

Polls have regularly shown Kern, who took over as chancellor in May, is more popular than his own party while FPO leader Heinz-Christian Strache is less popular than his. Monday's poll showed Kern had a 56 percent approval rating when voters were asked what they thought of various countries' leaders.
© Reuters


Netherlands: Discrimination complaints soar, people ‘unaware’ of stereotype impact

21/3/2017- The Dutch human rights council College voor de Rechten van de Mens received 3,143 complaints about discrimination last year, a rise of almost 1,000 on 2015 ‘We believe that people are increasingly having to deal with discrimination on the grounds of race, origin and religion,’ chairwoman Adriana van Dooijeweert said in a statement. ‘We Dutch see ourselves as a modern, tolerant people who believe in living and letting live,’ she said. ‘We believe that is okay to make a tasteless joke… because we don’t really mean it.’ However, people often don’t realise that they are discriminating because of these stereotypes – such as women are gentle, gays are arty and older people are inflexible, Van Dooijeweert said. Negative stereotyping is leading to a systematic underestimation of the quality of job seekers with a Moroccan, Turkish and Antillean background, said Van Dooijeweert. ‘At the same time, the qualities of the native Dutch are being over-estimated, even by employers who expressly try not to discriminate.’ The council gave a ruling in 463 cases.

Most complaints centred on discrimination at work and over one in four involved discrimination on grounds of race. Discrimination against people with a handicap or chronic health condition were in second place, followed by discrimination on the grounds of sex. In 75% cases that came to a ruling, the company involved took some form of action, ranging from an apology to taking structural steps to stop the same situation happening again. The council is one of several bodies which collate complaints about discrimination. The police, and hotline Meldpunt Internet Discriminatie also release statistics.
© The Dutch News


Dutch election: anti-rights rhetoric goes mainstream despite Wilders’ defeat(column)

Last week’s general election in the Netherlands was one of the most closely watched in years. But the fact that Geert Wilders’ radical right party failed to make major gains does not mean he has not had an impact, writes Anna Timmerman of Human Rights Watch.

20/3/2017- While most of the world was focused only on one party, the radical right populist Party for Freedom (PVV) and its leader Geert Wilders, the Dutch cast their votes widely across 13 parties, two of them winning seats for the first time. No party got more than 22% of the vote. For the rest of the world, the fact that the PVV fared less well than many polls had predicted and was soundly beaten by the centre-right Liberal party (VVD, 21.3% of the vote and 33 seats) is an understandable cause for celebration. Populism failed its first big test since Trump’s election and Brexit. While its share of the vote (13.1%) and seats (20) are an increase from 2012, they are lower than the party garnered in 2010, when this brand of radical populism was on few people’s radar. People are also heartened by the share of the vote won by the centrist D66 party (19 seats and 12% of vote) and GroenLinks (Green party), which scored its best result ever (14 seats, and 8.9%).

Dirty campaign
But the news is not all good. While a mainstream party won, the Liberal party’s triumph was tarnished by a dirty campaign where it emulated the PVV’s rhetoric, lashing out against Islam and telling Dutch-born citizens whose families came from other countries to integrate or ‘get out’. These citizens could not be blamed for thinking the party likely to lead the next government won’t govern for them. It was a similar story with the Christian Democrats (CDA), who ran on an anti-refugee agenda. They were rewarded with 12.5% of the vote and 19 seats. The Christian Orthodox SGP party ran a campaign along similar lines and won 3 seats with 2.1%. It remains to be seen who will join the ruling coalition. The main parties have all eschewed a coalition with PVV, and it’s important they honor that pledge.

Political expediency
Before the elections, Human Rights Watch spoke to candidates from most of the parties. Those interviews made clear that the VVD, PVV, and CDA – parties that make up almost half the seats in the new parliament – are willing to set aside human rights for the sake of political expediency. Indeed, a Dutch lawyers group concluded that all three parties’ election manifestos include measures that are contrary to human rights or are openly discriminatory toward certain groups. In short, the worry is that Wilders’s ideas will prevail even though his party did not. The Netherlands’ civil society will need to work with those parties supporting human rights. And they should call it out when mainstream parties set aside core values for political gain.
© The Dutch News


Switzerland: Valais voters oust right-wing politician in ‘defeat for populism’

Oskar Freysinger, the vice-president of the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), who was elected to the Valais government four years ago on a wave of support, lost his seat on Sunday.
The re-election of Valais’ security minister was already in doubt after he placed sixth in the first round of voting three weeks ago, with only five seats up for grabs

20/3/2017- On Sunday Freysinger’s downfall was confirmed in the second round when he once again placed sixth. In losing his seat he becomes the first sitting minister in the modern history of Valais to stand for re-election and not succeed, according to news agencies. His seat was taken by Liberal-Radical Frédéric Favre, standing for the first time and a political unknown until just a few months ago. It’s a sharp fall from grace for Freysinger, a former federal MP who was voted into the Valais government in 2013 with the most support of any candidate. Back then he received 56,913 votes, or 43.5 percent of the total, compared with just 42,520 votes this time around. Known for his ultra-conservative views particularly on Muslim immigration, the outspoken politician has been a controversial figure in Swiss politics for many years, both during his time as a federal MP and in his four years as a minister in the Valais.

He was a leading exponent of the successful 2009 campaign to ban minarets and a failed 2016 SVP initiative calling for the expulsion of foreign criminals, which used posters that critics considered racist. In 2011 he spoke alongside Dutch far right politician Geert Wilders in the Hague after a planned event in the Valais was banned by local authorities. Freysinger also sits on the Ergerkingen Committee which has campaigned for a federal ban on the Islamic face veil. Just after he was elected to the Valais government in 2013 he was criticized for displaying a flag considered a neo-Nazi symbol in his home during a television interview. Freysinger did not speak to the media following Sunday’s defeat, but SVP MP Franz Ruppen told the press he had spoken to the defeated minister on the phone and said he was “disappointed”. “I think his political career in Valais is finished,” said Ruppen.

Christian-Democrat Christophe Darbellay, himself re-elected in third place but whose campaign was dogged by scandal after he was forced to admit he had fathered a child with a woman other than his wife, said Freysinger’s fall was “a defeat for populism and aggression”. Socialist Christian Levrat also hailed Freysinger’s defeat. “After having led a career based on provocation, the former minister can only blame himself,” he told the press. Writing an editorial in the Tages-Anzeiger, journalist Daniel Foppa said Freysinger’s defeat ends a “bizarre political career” in which the controversial politician could seemingly do and say anything and nevertheless still be elected, first to the federal parliament and then to the Valais government. “On a regular basis Freysinger was a guest of right-wing extremists and conspiracy theorists all over Europe,” writes Foppa, adding that he was also “ineffectual” as a politician. “If you take all this into account it is astonishing that Freysinger’s career came to an end only today,” he said, concluding that his defeat is “a soothing counterpoint in times when populism is on the rise”.

Christian-Democrat Roberto Schmidt was elected in first place, with over 59,000 votes. His colleagues Jacques Melly and Darbellay placed second and third, with Socialist Esther Waeber-Kalbermatten and Favre completing the new Valais government in fourth and fifth place.
© The Local - Switzerland


Once in the Shadows, Europe’s Neo-Fascists Are Re-emerging

19/3/2017- Head bowed in reverence, Robert Svec gently placed a bouquet of blood-red flowers at the foot of the only known statue of Jozef Tiso, Slovakia’s wartime fascist leader, in a weedy monument park known as the Pantheon of Slovak Historical Figures. For years, Mr. Svec’s neo-fascist cultural organization, the Slovak Revival Movement, was a tiny fringe group. But now his crowds are growing, as 200 people recently gathered with him to celebrate the country’s fascist past and call fascist-era greetings — “Na Straz!” or “On the guard!” Mr. Svec is so emboldened that he is transforming his movement into a political party, with plans to run for Parliament. “You are ours, and we will forever be yours,” Mr. Svec said at the foot of the statue, having declared this as the Year of Jozef Tiso, dedicated to rehabilitating the image of the former priest and Nazi collaborator, who was hanged as a war criminal in 1947.

Once in the shadows, Europe’s neo-fascists are stepping back out, more than three-quarters of a century after Nazi boots stormed through Central Europe, and two decades since a neo-Nazi resurgence of skinheads and white supremacists unsettled the transition to democracy. In Slovakia, neo-fascists are winning regional offices and taking seats in the multiparty Parliament they hope to replace with strongman rule. They are still on the edges of European politics, yet offer another reminder of how turbulent politics have become. Just as the rise of far-right parties is forcing many mainstream politicians to pivot rightward, so, too, has the populist mood energized the most extremist right-wing groups, those flirting with or even embracing fascist policies that trace back to World War II. “Before, pro-fascist sentiments were kept hidden,” said Gabriel Sipos, director of Transparency International Slovakia. “Parents would tell their children, ‘You cannot say this at school.’ Now, you can say things in the public space that you couldn’t say before.”

Although nationalist parties have thrived across Europe in recent years, only a few — Golden Dawn in Greece and the National Democratic Party in Germany, to name two — embrace neo-fascist views. Some, like Jobbik in Hungary, are extremist in their right-wing views but stop short of outright fascism. Instead, the broader impact of these groups has been measured in how they have pushed mainstream parties in a more firmly nationalist direction — especially on immigration — to slow the defection of supporters. “Now, extremists and fascists are part of the system,” said Grigorij Meseznikov, president of the Institute for Public Affairs, a liberal research group. In Slovakia, neo-fascism has established something of a beachhead. Mr. Svec is joining a political field where a party with an established neo-fascist leader, Marian Kotleba, demonstrated surprising strength in last year’s parliamentary elections, winning 14 seats in the 150-member chamber.

Pre-election polls showed his party getting less than 3 percent of the vote, but his result — 8 percent — was built on strong support from young people and other first-time voters. More recent polls show his support nearing 13 percent. He had already stunned Slovakia in 2013 by winning the governorship of Banska Bystrica, one of Slovakia’s eight regions. Mr. Kotleba, 39, who recently renamed his party Kotleba — People’s Party Our Slovakia, used to appear in uniforms reminiscent of those worn during the wartime Slovak State. Once he and his party got into Parliament, the uniforms disappeared and he shifted his attacks from Jews to immigrants and the country’s Roma minority. “They used to turn up at gay pride parades, show their muscle, turn up the heat,” said Michal Havran, a television talk-show host and political commentator. “Now, they don’t go; they are worried about their image.” But the underlying message of groups like Mr. Kotleba’s and Mr. Svec’s has not shifted — Slovakia was better off under a fascist government.

“Something very dark and very troubling from the past is coming back,” Mr. Havran said. “They feel they are fighting for something very pure, something very old and sacred. A few years ago, they were ashamed to talk about it. Now, they are proud.” In Banska Bystrica, Mr. Kotleba’s powers as governor include overseeing schools, cultural institutions and some infrastructure projects. “If you are a white, heterosexual man, you probably don’t notice any difference living in a place where Kotleba is governor,” said Rado Sloboda, 26, one of a group of Banska Bystrica activists opposing Mr. Kotleba under the banner “Not in Our Town.” “If you are a minority, like a Roma, you feel it more keenly. There is a feeling that they are even less welcome in the center city.”

The muscular receptionist outside Mr. Kotleba’s office said this month that no entry was possible without an appointment, although the governor almost never grants interviews. When told that repeated calls had not been returned, he asked the name of the newspaper. “Oh,” he said. “That explains it.” Mr. Kotleba’s party has been especially effective on social media, with more than 140 interconnected Facebook pages. When a local retiree, Jan Bencik, 68, began blogging to expose the country’s neo-fascists, his name appeared on a list of “opponents of the state.” “They called me a Jew, said that I should die, die, die,” Mr. Bencik said. “They said that people like me would be dealt with in the future.” One of the ironies of Mr. Kotleba’s coming to power in Banska Bystrica is that it was the center of the anti-fascist Slovak National Uprising during the war and is home to the national museum commemorating that event.

Stanislav Micev, the museum director, characterized Mr. Kotleba’s message as “fascism with elements of Nazism,” mixing Mussolini’s strongman rule with Hitler’s demonization of minorities. “They are against Americans, Hungarians, Jews, black people and yellow people,” Mr. Micev said. “His current positions are right on the edge of what is legal.” As a newcomer on the neo-fascist political scene, Mr. Svec regards Mr. Kotleba as a potential rival for the same angry vote. At the Jozef Tiso memorial ceremony, the top officials in Mr. Svec’s movement wore matching dark suits with white shirts and bright red ties. A table in the back of the room did a brisk business selling Slovak Revival Movement patches, stickers, key rings, calendars, cookies and bottles of wine (white only) labeled “Year of Jozef Tiso.” “The people in power want Slovaks to be ashamed of their history,” said Martin Lacko, a historian and supporter of Mr. Svec. “They want them to keep apologizing. That’s why they keep talking about deportations of Jews during the war and other negative things.”

A group of gray-haired singers in folk costumes, accompanied by a clarinet and an accordion, performed a series of patriotic favorites. “Slovak moms, you have beautiful sons,” they sang. A pair of university students with floppy hair and denim sat in the back corner, whispering during the speeches and snatching pastries from a nearby table during breaks. Both said they considered themselves devout and conservative, and did not believe Mr. Svec and Mr. Kotleba were extremist in any way. They also pointed to the election of President Trump as a good thing. “I have to say, the U.S. election results made me extremely happy,” said Martin Bornik, 23. In an interview after the ceremony, Mr. Svec rejected the notion that his group is neo-Nazi. “When Americans bring their flags to parks or to public events, nobody says anything,” Mr. Svec said. “When we do it, they call us neo-Nazis. You know, labeling someone is the easiest thing to do.”
© The New York Times


Sweden: Politician for far-right Sweden Democrats 'waved gun' at meeting

A local politician for the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats (SD) is being investigated by his own party after he brandished a gun at a meeting.

23/3/2017- Newspaper Smålandsposten reports that the man waved a gun around at an internal meeting in Tingsryd town hall in southern Sweden. The incident has led to the man being asked to leave his political position and the party, but he has chosen not to do so. SD are now investigating whether to expel him. The politician explained the incident by saying that he practices pistol shooting. "There's nothing unusual about this. I practice pistol shooting and it’s a bit difficult to do that sport if you don’t have a gun," he told Smålands posten. He does not deny that he brought his weapon with him to a meeting, but insists that there is an ongoing smear campaign against him.
© The Local - Sweden


Sweden: School watchdog probes teacher over Nazi allegations

A teacher who went to a Nazi meeting and joined anti-Semitic groups on social media is being investigated by the Swedish school watchdog.

22/3/2017- The teacher, who works at a school in Kävlinge municipality, attented a meeting held by the militant far-right Nordic Resistance Movement where the group's manifesto was discussed. Sweden's security police has described it as one of the most dangerous far-right groups in Sweden. The Swedish Schools Inspectorate is now investigating the teacher after receiving an anonymous complaint about her last week, writes regional newspaper Sydsvenskan. "I have never seen such serious reports about a teacher. We have immediately launched an investigation," Elizabeth Malmstedt of the education watchdog told the daily. In a podcast published by a far-right site, the teacher, who Sydsvenskan reports is also active in nationalist and anti-Semitic groups on social media, confirmed that she attended the meeting, but denied being a member. "I actually had a really nice evening," she told the podcast.

When approached by Sydsvenskan and its sister paper HD by e-mail, she declined to answer questions, adding: "I have people behind me you don't want anything to do with." A spokesperson for the Schools Inspectorate confirmed to The Local on Wednesday that they have launched an investigation, as is normal procedure. "The investigation will lead to a decision on whether or not there are grounds to report the teacher to the teachers' disciplinary committee and request a warning or that their teacher certificate be revoked. The case is pending and it is not possible to assess how long it is going to take," press officer Carina Larsson said. The teacher is still working at the school, reports Sydsvenskan. The principal told the newspaper that the school has been told by lawyers that they have no right to ask questions about a teacher's political views. "My work extends to ensuring that the education is based on democratic values. In the current situation there is nothing about her teaching that gives me reason to question that."

The Schools Inspectorate is unable to comment on a specific case during an ongoing investigation, but asked about the general rules, Larsson told The Local: "In general, public sector employees including teachers enjoy freedom of speech as all other citizens in Sweden. But it is important to remember that the teacher in their teaching should always uphold those values shared by the school's values and clearly distance themselves from conflicting values. In Sweden's school act it says, among other things, that a teacher should promote human rights and actively discourage all forms of degrading treatment." Police are also investigating after posters with the teacher's picture, name, address and her parents' address were put up at the school by far-left group Anti-Fascist Action. According to police reports filed by the teacher, last month a rock and smoke bomb were thrown through her window, her tyres were slashed and the word "Nazi" sprayed on her balcony.
The Local has e-mailed the school for a comment.
© The Local - Sweden


Swedish neo-Nazis disrupt lectures by Holocaust survivors

A diplomatic cable from Israel’s ambassador to Sweden describes provocations by the Nordic Resistance Movement and claims that local police won’t provide security at the events.
18/3/2017- A neo-Nazi organization active in Sweden has been disrupting lectures from Holocaust survivors throughout the country, but the police are refusing to provide security at the locations of such talks, according to Israel’s top envoy to the Nordic country. Ambassador Isaac Bachman, who has 29 years’ experience with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, wrote of this situation in a diplomatic cable to the MFA in Jerusalem. The neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement is known in Sweden for its extremely provocative activities, despite it being a small organization with no more than 200 activists. It has a clearly racist and anti-Semitic ideology, and its members make sure to plan their activities to cause the most friction and receive the highest amount of media coverage. As one would expect from such an organization, the Nordic Resistance Movement denies the Holocaust and deems the eyewitness accounts of its few remaining survivors to be preposterous.

As part of their campaign to interrupt lectures by survivors, they went to a talk given three weeks ago by a Holocaust survivor who has lived in Sweden for decades and who frequently shares his personal experiences with the public. Members of the organization protested outside the hall where he was speaking and distributed flyers to attendees that spread their Holocaust-denying ideology. The “informational materials” claimed that lecture being given was entirely bogus. The ensuing verbal confrontations deteriorated into a physical brawl. Describing the event in his telegram, the ambassador wrote, “This incident is one of similar others in which the organization interferes with the running of lectures being given by Holocaust survivors…  “A similar and aggressive disturbance took place last April in another city in which the Holocaust survivor’s lecture barely continued, in spite of members of the neo-Nazi organization entering and interfering during. And all this (took place) after the police were called to the location.”

Due to such talks having become targets for provocation, the schools that organize them have tried to obtain security from the police. So far, they have been unsuccessful. Bachman wrote that the police refuse to provide security at the events because the member of the Nordic Resistance Movement “do not yet appear to innately provoke violence.”
© Ynet News


UK: Muslim woman photographed on Westminster Bridge during terror incident speaks out

The woman was vilified on social media after some said it looked like she was walking past the wounded without concern

25/3/2017- A Muslim woman who was photographed walking past terror attack victims on Westminster Bridge has spoken out against internet trolls who said she appeared "indifferent". Hundreds of people have already taken to social media to defend the woman, who has not been named, after some online commentators viciously attacked her for purportedly failing to stop, help, or care. "What the image does not show is that I had talked to other witnesses to try and find out what was happening," she said, "to see if I could be of any help, even though enough people were at the scene tending to the victims." The photographer who captured the image told The Independent earlier today that the woman’s actions were "completely appropriate" and the image had been wildly "misappropriated".

In a short statement shared on Twitter by the charity TellMAMA, which documents anti-Muslim hate crime, the woman said after seeing if she could help, she "decided to call my family to say that I was fine and was making my way home from work, assisting a lady along the way by helping her get to Waterloo station". She added: "My thoughts go out to all the victims and their families. I would like to thank Jamie Lorriman, the photographer who took the picture, for speaking to the media in my defence." Press photographer Lorriman said the woman was clearly “traumatised” and “visibly distressed”. He said she was just one of hundreds fleeing the bridge, trying to avoid looking at the “horror surrounding them”. “Her behaviour was completely in line with everyone else on the bridge, but you're not assuming others are callously ignoring the scenario,” he said.

He also criticised those taking the image out of context, saying: “I wish there was something I could do about it being misused and misinterpreted. “It’s people who clearly have an agenda they want to push and will just put whatever they think out there. “I think hate is how it can be categorised – whether it’s racial, Islamic, whatever – people who hate will use anything as the weapon of their opinion.” Other people on social media have said the woman should never have had to justify her "perfectly normal" behaviour. At least 50 people were injured after terrorist Khalid Masood ploughed his car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge. He then fatally stabbed PC Keith Palmer before being shot dead. Four people were killed in the attack and 31 needed hospital treatment. It is believed 29 people remain in hospital, five of whom are in a critical condition and two have life-threatening injuries.
© The Independent


UK: Extremists "will not be silenced" as Scots White Pride demo cannot be outlawed

24/3/2017- Neo-Nazi extremists have said they "will not be silenced" after discovering there is no barrier to their White Pride demonstration planned for Scotland's capital on the same day hundreds of Sikhs hold a procession. It comes as questions were raised about the legality of what was thought to be a march and as National Front Scotland hit back at protests against the event with campaigners saying it should be banned. Police and council sources say that the so-called 'white nationalists' are organising a 'static demo' which can go ahead without any official permission being sought. The Sikh group, Guru Nanak Gurdwara Edinburgh said it will be carry on as normal and having consulted with police, they do not fear any trouble. It had been thought that the 'Remembering Our Past, Taking Back Our Future" gathering was a march that would require council permission.

Circulated details indicated a gathering at Edinburgh's Waverley train station at 1pm on Saturday (March 25) before moving onto the Covenanters' Memorial for 1.30pm at the top of the Grassmarket, the spot where over a 100 were hanged for their religious beliefs between 1661 and 1688. One National Front Scotland circular about the demo says it is a time to "gather together with white pride flags and flags of white nations, to celebrate the great history of the white race and to speak out against anti-white racism. A must attend day for any white activist!" Unite Against Fascism Scotland, which is to mount a counter-demonstration said that it was "disgusted that a poisonous Nazi rump called the National Front" are behind the racist White Pride march.

The event starts as some 200 Sikhs complete a Mini Nagar Kirtan festival from Sheriff Brae in Leith to mark a 40th anniversary of worship. Similar events elsewhere have involved walking from temple to temple while singing hymns. But the organisers of the far-right protest supported by, among others, British Action, self-styled street activists, have been warned that any march, parade or procession would be illegal. Now police have been told by the White Pride organisers that they will demonstrate without marching, avoiding any requirement to notify the council or get permission.

A National Front Scotland spokesman said: "We will not be silenced by Cultural Marxists or those who wish to deny us our right to Freedom of Speech and Free Assembly!" Edinburgh City Council had said that organisers of marches and parades are required by law to give them at least 28 days notice of the event which will then be considered by officers and police. Council sources say if no notification was received any march would be essentially illegal. Once notified of the intention to hold a parade, the council then considers the impact it may have on a number factors such as public safety and potential damage to property. Other considerations include the intended route, whether there will be a return march and if music will be played. If satisfied, and if no objections have been received, the council then makes an order confirming an agreed route and conditions where appropriate. If necessary, the council has the power to prohibit a procession.

A police source confirmed they were aware that there would be a static demo and that there was "no legislative requirement" to seek permission. The force source said they would have to consider what appropriate action to take if the extremists were to conduct a march. The UAF has said there were plans for counter-protests to the White Pride demonstration on the same day. A UAF source said: "We don't think that this racism should be allowed on our streets." The Sikh group, Guru Nanak Gurdwara Edinburgh said:"The Nagar Kirtan will go on a procession of approximately two miles, all within the locality of the Gurdwara," the group said. "This will take place from 11am-1pm and be approximately three miles away from the city centre, where the white pride demonstration is set to take place around the time we will be finishing.

"We have discussed the issue with the council and the police and recognise they will do their best to ensure the Nagar Kirtan is not disturbed in any way. We would also like to express the great relationship the Edinburgh Sikh community has with our locals. "We do not fear any trouble and we will be holding this event as it was always intended. We encourage anyone of any background to come along and join us to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the first Gurdwara in Edinburgh." A Police Scotland spokesperson said:“Police Scotland have been made aware of several demonstrations planned for Saturday 25th March in Edinburgh. "We are working with our partners, including The City of Edinburgh Council, to put in place a proportionate policing operation to facilitate peaceful protest and minimise disruption to the public.”

An Edinburgh council spokesman said: “The council has not received notification from organisers. We will continue to work with police to ensure minimum disruption to the community resulting from any event.”
© The Herald Scotland


UK: Terror attack: Fears as far-right activists plan anti-Islam march outside Parliament

Details of planned protest emerge as anti-extremism campaigners warn of groups wanting to 'meet violence with violence'.

24/3/2017- Far-right activists plan to hold an "anti-terrorism" protest just yards from where victims lost their lives during Wednesday's (22 March) attack in Westminster. It comes as police and anti-extremism campaigners expressed fears that extreme right-wing groups will try to use the Islamist terror attack to sow division in areas with large Muslim populations. Radical anti-Islam party Britain First intends to meet near Trafalgar Square next Saturday (1 April), before marching with flags and banners along Whitehall and gathering for a rally in Parliament Square. The controversial group – notorious for its so-called "mosque invasions" and "Christian patrols" – then plans to hold speeches by guest speakers from other anti-Islam groups. This could include former English Defence League (EDL) leader Tommy Robinson, who caused controversy with an anti-Islam tirade at the scene of Wednesday's attack just hours after it had happened.

Robinson – real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – has yet to confirm his attendance but told IBTimes UK he "may be there". Other attendees have also yet to be confirmed. While Britain First said it was liaising with police to confirm the route for the march, the party's plans could be scuppered by strict laws controlling protests outside Parliament. It will also likely face strong opposition from politicians and anti-extremism campaigners, who have already accused the group of political opportunism. It comes as Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday led condemnation from MPs for the previous day's attack, which left four people dead, including the attacker, and 29 injured. The carnage saw the suspect – named by police as British-born Khalid Masood – mow down pedestrians on Westminster Bridge with a Hyundai, before crashing his vehicle into some railings. The 52-year-old then ran into the Palace of Westminster, where he stabbed a police officer to death before being shot dead.

The prospect of far-right activists marching so close to where victims lost their lives or suffered serious injuries comes amid fears anti-Islam groups will try to use the attack to divide communities. The Met Police gave a tacit warning to far-right groups in the hours after Wednesday's attack. "The police stand with all communities in the UK and will take action against anyone who seeks to undermine society, especially where their crimes are motivated by hate," said Mark Rowley, the head of counterterrorism policing and acting deputy commissioner of the Met Police. "We must recognise now that our Muslim communities will feel anxious at this time given the past behaviour of the extreme-right wing and we will continue to work with all community leaders in the coming days."

Hope Not Hate, the UK's leading anti-extremism charity, also warned of groups "who call for division". It questioned why far-right groups like Britain First hadn't organised marches when right-wing terrorist Tommy Mair murdered Labour MP Jo Cox. "Britain First is nothing more than a busted flush, pathetically trying to use a terrorist outrage as some sort of justification for its existence," it said. "The truth is that terrorist groups and extremists like Britain First need each other. In fact, they thrive on each other. "Where was Paul Golding after the murder of Jo Cox? Or Tommy Robinson? Banned groups such as National Action were even lauding her murder. "We have come out and exposed the antics and networks of both Islamist extremists and their far-right counterparts, and that is absolutely the right position to take.

"There will undoubtedly be, and already have been, figures on the far-right who will and have tried to use yesterday's attack to call for crack downs and spread their poison online. We're calling on our supporters to remain vigilant to anyone who celebrates the attacks, or who attempts to use them to spread racial or religious hatred, and to report in all incidents to relevant authorities and social media companies." It added: "In the coming hours and days, there will be some who call for more hatred. Who want nothing more than to meet violence with violence. That is the path to ruin." Golding, recently released from prison following an incident outside a mosque in Cardiff, has long been accused of causing unrest in British Muslim communities with provocative street-level action.

His party, which repeatedly warns of a coming "civil war" with Islam, insists it holds peaceful protests. But its marches often result in clashes with local residents or anti-fascist campaigners. In November last year, the group's deputy leader, Jayda Fransen, was convicted of religious harassment after she hurled abuse at a Muslim woman for wearing a hijab during a march through Luton. Golding dismissed concerns about next Saturday's planned march outside Parliament, telling IBTimes UK those who accused his group of opportunism "can get stuffed". He added: "It's bending over backwards to appease militant Islam that's got us here in the first place. The time for being 'sensitive' and politically correct has long gone." Golding said the group had originally planned to march in Darwen in Lancashire, but changed its location to London in light of Wednesday's attack. The Met Police has been contacted for a comment by IBTimes UK.
© The International Business Times - UK


UK: Londoners Stand Together, Extremists Will Not Divide Us

23/3/2017- Yesterday, staff in one of our projects, Tell MAMA, found themselves in Parliament when outside, people were being murdered by what seems to be, a terrorist intent on damaging the peace of our country. Hundreds of people were locked in whilst our security services worked diligently to make everyone feel secure. As the Prime Minister said, "the voices of hate and evil will not tear us apart." We have always said that more needs to be done to challenge extremism and that those who seek to undermine efforts to build trust in reporting in potential safeguarding issues, weaken our collective efforts to challenge extremism and reduce terrorism. Civil liberties must be protected, but in doing so, there is no greater protection of civil liberties than the protection of life.

The events yesterday show us how we need to confront, challenge, disrupt and call out extremism where we see it and where we come across it. We have always said that extremism is one of the root causes that fractures community relations and that every effort must be made to counter those who peddle such narratives, whether far right or driven by Islamic State. Yet, we all know that extremist narratives also come from other sources, those who peddle division, perpetual victim ideology and a 'them and us' mentality. It also comes from those who deny the rights of others. Going forward, let us redouble our efforts to focus on standing together as Londoners and in re-invigorating our desire to ensure that we are all safe and secure. Extremism must be targeted with everything our State has as resources.

There will be a candlelit vigil in Trafalgar Square from 6pm this evening - Thursday 23 March.

The Mayor invites you, Londoners, and everyone visiting our city, to come together in solidarity to remember those who have lost their lives, to express sympathy with their families and loved ones and to show the world that we are more committed than ever to the values that we hold dear - that we remain united and open.

London is the greatest city in the world. We will never be cowed by terrorism. We stand together, in the face of those who seek to harm us and destroy our way of life. We always have, and we always will.
© Faith Matters


British far-right figure Nick Griffin seeks 'refuge' in Hungary

20/3/2017- The former head of the far-right British National Party has said he is moving to Hungary to live under anti-immigration Prime Minister Viktor Orban as a "refugee" from western Europe. "There is already a sort of nationalist emigre community building up here. There's French, there's Italians, there's Swedes and Brits as well," Nick Griffin told a Hungarian website this weekend. "So it's only a trickle at present but I have no doubt at all that when the trouble really begins with Al-Qaeda and Isis in western Europe, that trickle is going to become a flood," the 58-year-old told "And I hope that Hungary, the Hungarian government, the Hungarian people, will welcome people who are genuine refugees from western Europe but keep out the liberals who have brought western Europe to this state in the first place."

Orban sees immigration as a "poison" endangering Europe's Christian culture and values. In February he offered refuge to anyone in western Europe looking to "find the Europe they have lost in their homelands". His government aims to confine all asylum-seekers currently in Hungary, and any new arrivals, to container camps at its southern border. They are free to leave only if they return to Serbia. Griffin, BNP head from 1999 to 2014, was in Budapest for a "Stop Operation Soros!" conference aimed at halting the pro-refugee activities of Hungarian-born US financier George Soros's Open Society Foundation. "I am very, very pleased that Hungary is taking a leading role in confronting the Soros problem," Griffin said. Orban's government "doesn't want to commit national suicide. That's very refreshing," he said. Cambridge-educated Griffin said he hoped to move to Hungary, a member of the European Union which Britain is due to leave in 2019, in the next six months.


UK: Neo-Nazis plan White Pride march on same day as Sikh religious festival

Far-right extremists will gather in Edinburgh to 'secure the existence of our people and the future for white children'

18/3/2017- A group of neo-Nazi extremists will march through Edinburgh next week to mark “Global White Pride Day”. The march is planned for the same day as a Sikh religious festival in Edinburgh, which will see hundreds take to the streets in a Nagar Kirtan procession, a traditional display of martial arts, hymns and music. Unite Against Fascism (UAF) claim the National Front has organised the demonstration, in collaboration with other far-right groups. The event appears to be organised by the same far-right groups behind a ‘White Pride Day’ celebration in Swansea, held on the same day in March last year. The organisers of the 2016 event described it as an opportunity to “stand proud of our race and white heritage while pledging that we must secure the existence of our people and the future for white children.” UAF have organised a counter-demonstration to oppose the White Pride March.

A member of UAF said: “Emboldened by Nazi Le Pen’s polling in France and by the influence of white nationalists in Donald Trump’s team these fascists feel confident they can come to the streets of our multicultural city. "Edinburgh has a fine tradition of stopping racists and Nazis. Should the National Front decide to step foot in Edinburgh, we call upon all anti-racists and anti-fascists to take part in the broadest united mobilisation. "We won’t stand for their racism, their Islamophobia, their scapegoating of migrants and refugees. We will push them back like we did with the SDL, the EDL and the BNP.” The march has been called just days after neo-Nazi propaganda was discovered at several bus stops in nearby Dunfermline. The material encouraged local people to "reject multiculturalism", while some posters bore the slogan: "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children." The posters were soon removed and police are investigating.

A statement from Guru Nanak Gurdwara Edinburgh, the organisers of the procession, said: "The Nagar Kirtan will go on a procession of approximately two miles, all within the locality of the Gurdwara. This will take place from 11am-1pm and be approximately three miles away from the city centre, where the 'white pride' demonstration is set to take place around the time we will be finishing. We never planned to go into the city centre, and we do not believe the “white pride march” was done to coincide with our Nagar Kirtan. "We have discussed the issue with the council and the police and recognise they will do their best to ensure the Nagar Kirtan is not disturbed in any way. We would also like to express the great relationship the Edinburgh Sikh community has with our locals. We do not fear any trouble and we will be holding this event as it was always intended. We encourage anyone of any background to come along and join us to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the first Gurdwara in Edinburgh."

A spokesperson for campaign group Scotland Against Trump said: "We know that the majority of folk in Scotland oppose the extreme racism practised by so-called White Pride marchers and by far-right politicians in the UK government. "When these gangs promote mass violence against whole groups of people, we believe they have no right to public space and will use our overwhelming numbers of protesters to prevent them from marching." A council spokeswoman confirmed no permission as yet had been sought for any ‘White Pride’ march in Edinburgh, but Police Scotland said they were aware of “several demonstrations” planned for the city centre on March 25. A spokeswoman told The Edinburgh News: “We are working with our partners, including The City of Edinburgh Council, to put in place a proportionate policing operation to facilitate peaceful protest and minimise disruption to the public.”
© The Independent



UN chief: ‘Stand up against intolerance and eliminate discrimination,’

21/3/2017- Against the backdrop of rising discrimination and violence against those perceived as different, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres today urged the world to stand up against intolerance and build communities that recognize diversity not as a source of weakness, but a source of strength and richness. “In a time of upheaval and change, it is easy to paint vulnerable communities as the cause of problems […] people are being targeted because of their race, nationality, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation,” warned Mr. Guterres at an event at the UN General Assembly commemorating the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Highlighting the particular plight of migrants as well as those, especially women and girls, from minority communities who are often targeted as “scapegoats” and experience racial profiling by authorities, the UN chief underscored the collective responsibility “to do better” and to protect human rights of all. “We all have a role to play […] after all, racial discrimination destabilizes societies, undermines democracies and erodes the legitimacy of governments,” he said. “By acting together to end discrimination, we can lift humanity as a whole.” In his remarks, the Secretary-General also reminded that international law requires States to take effective actions to prevent and eliminate discrimination on all grounds and in all fields of civil, economic, political, social and cultural life.

“They must be vigilant and respond immediately and appropriately, including by prohibiting incitement to racial, national and religious hatred and ending racial profiling,” he said, making a specific call on politicians and leaders to speak up and counter hateful speech. “Let us stand up against intolerance and eliminate discrimination,” he noted, “Let us join forces in our global campaign – Together for Respect, Safety and Dignity for all.”

Marked on 21 March, the International Day commemorates the killing of 69 unarmed protestors in 1960 in Sharpeville, South Africa, who were staging a peaceful protest against the discriminatory pass laws of the racist apartheid regime.

In his remarks Assembly President Peter Thomson said it is challenging to see how far the world is from winning the global fight against racism, xenophobia and related intolerance. Even though global migration had long been a feature of human history and forcible displacement had driven large number of people from their homes, refugees and migrants too often are met with suspicion, fear and intolerance. “The world must reaffirm its faith in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action,” he said, adding that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights called on the world to stand up against racism, xenophobia and hate where and whenever it appeared.

Moreover, political leaders must be role models for tolerant and respectful attitudes towards migrants. Cross-cultural education in schools must foster respect for diversity and understanding of the positive contribution refugees and migrants made to societies and economies. Most critical, said Mr. Thomson, is the need to fully support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda to secure a safe, more sustainable and prosperous future for all. “We must use this historic opportunity of the forthcoming negotiations on a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration to affirm universal respect for the rights of migrants,” he said.

Also addressing the Assembly, Louise Arbour, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration, said the New York Declaration and forthcoming global compact negotiations would show societies how to embrace diversity at a time when more than 240 million people were displaced. With pluralistic societies appearing to be the norm, she said her work involved supporting the ‘Together’ campaign, a new dialogue about refugees and migrants to foster social cohesion while countering negative stereotyping and falsehoods about them.
© UN News Centre


Education to promote inclusion, mutual respect essential to counter hate speech

Promoting inclusion and mutual respect through education and strong positive narratives are essential to prevent incitement to hatred and counter hate speech in the digital age, the heads of three European human rights institutions said in a joint statement on today’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

21/3/2017- Michael Georg Link, Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), Michael O’Flaherty, Director of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), and Christian Ahlund, Chair of the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), stressed that it is the responsibility of all, and political leaders in particular, to counter intolerant discourse and hate speech, and to ensure their root causes are addressed through education. “We all play a crucial role in promoting mutual respect and inclusion, ensuring that we live in societies that foster respect for the rights and dignity of every person, regardless of their ethnicity, gender, religion or belief or any other identity,” said ODIHR Director Link. “Political and community leaders have a greater responsibility, and must address intolerance in all its forms, so as to effectively counter hate speech, which can lead to violence and hate crimes and dangerously undermine security and social cohesion.”

FRA Director O’Flaherty noted that hate speech is not limited to extremists, and that the deliberate manipulation of information designed to promote intolerance is squarely in the mainstream of political rhetoric. He stressed that these fabrications could only be countered through education and media literacy. “The challenge is to address those who are receptive to intolerant views. Encouraging greater media literacy is an essential element of this, particularly in the digital environment,” the FRA Director said. “We need to support both children and adults to critically assess what they see and hear in the media. This will enable them to recognise propaganda, and help them to confront and report statements that incite hatred."

In addition to the prompt condemnation of the use of hate speech, ECRI Chair Ahlund highlighted the need to challenge and engage those who propagate it. “Policies against hate speech should also envisage steps to encourage those who use hate speech both to repudiate this use and to help them end their association with groups using it,” he said. “This is not an easy task. Nonetheless, changing behaviours, by demonstrating both the falsity of the foundations on which hate speech is based and its unacceptability, is not impossible. Existing projects directed to this goal should be widely emulated and supported.”

ODIHR, FRA and ECRI play an active role in countering hate speech, hate crime and other forms of intolerance. ODIHR reports on hate crimes across the OSCE’s 57 participating States on and helps local authorities and civil society address this issue. FRA is developing a media toolkit to guide journalists on how to include a human rights perspective in their reporting. ECRI General Policy Recommendation No.15 contains guidelines on how to combat the use of hate speech and the No Hate Speech Movement is a youth campaign of the Council of Europe mobilising young people to act on hate speech and counter it.

The United Nations designated 21 March the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 1966, in memory of the 69 people killed six years earlier in Sharpeville, South Africa, during a peaceful demonstration to protest the apartheid system.
© EU Fundamental Rights Agency


Finland: Anti-racism week

Organized every year by the Finnish Red Cross, the week against racism 2017 began on Monday with a series of interactive and educational events held across the country.

22/3/2017- The campaign aims to foster a discussion between communities and individuals about the best ways to create an inclusive and safe society. Joined by dozens of athletes, sports societies and participating organizations, the Red Cross is hoping that the campaign will “comment on how a dream society is built through practical acts and decisions”. Another goal is to “reinforce the image of Finland as an open and good country, and Finns as friendly and sincere people”. One way of doing this is through a campaign video, in which contributors explain why they have taken a stand against racism. The video will be broadcast on Yle channels throughout the week.

The week was launched on Monday with an inaugural event at Narinkkatori, Helsinki. Awards were presented to groups and individuals that have led by example in the treatment of people in an equal and non-discriminatory way. of the award for the Helsinki and Uusimaa district. Presented by Finnish Red Cross secretary Kristiina Kumpula, the prize was given to Drake for her “open-mindedness and courage in searching for solutions to immigration and integration”. Regional Director for the City of Espoo library, Drake has helped to increase the amount of non-Finnish employees at the library and ushered in new initiatives such as a multilingual fairytale hour for children.

The campaign is not limited to Helsinki, however, with activities lined up throughout the week in Kotka, Kouvola, Kuopio, Pori, Rovaniemi and elsewhere. Events include informal get-togethers, seminars for young women and talks led by refugee camp workers. More information about the campaign can be found here, while the event calendar can be found here.
© The Helsinki Times.


Greece: Anti-racism rally held in Athens on Int'l Day against Discrimination

22/3/2017- A symbolic anti-racism rally was held in the center of Athens on Tuesday on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination commemorated annually on March 21, as a new survey revealed the increased xenophobia of Greek society. During a "walk against discriminations" organized with the initiative of the Greek Forum of Migrants, politicians, artists and representatives of various groups confronting racism (LGBT, Roma, migrants, HIV positive, refugees, drug addicts, religious minorities etc.) shouted "no to racism" in front of the Greek parliament. Among protesters "marching together for a better world" was Maria Giannakaki, Secretary General of Transparency and Human Rights at the Greek Ministry of Justice, conveying the message of the Greek government against racism.

The phobic and racist syndromes are incompatible with the status of an EU member-state, Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos said in an e-mailed message for the day. "We are united. This phenomenon (racism) does not concern only refugees and migrants... We are all here together; united sending the message that in a state committed to the rule of law it is our obligation to defend the weak," Ahmed Moavia, head of the Greek Forum of Migrants, told Xinhua during Tuesday's protest. "We are all equal, there are no differences. Equality." Sadia from Egypt added. Anna Perkin joined the march representing the transgender community. "In the trans community we know well what racism and discrimination is... Starting from our families to the job market, where marginalization is huge, we face many problems on a daily basis... Have you seen several trans people working in the public sector?" she said.

Banners with messages for humanity, equality and solidarity were also raised on Saturday when another 2,000 protesters participated in a similar rally. Nevertheless, the results of a poll released on Tuesday showed that the fight against prejudice and racism is still long. Although Greek people have been praised in the past two years for the solidarity they demonstrated facing the refugee-migrant influx in addition to the seven- year debt crisis, the survey revealed widespread xenophobia. Almost two thirds of Greeks consider migrants a threat on an economic, social and cultural level, according to a survey by the National Center for Social Research (EKKE), Greek national news agency AMNA reported. The 65 percent of respondents said that migrants were bad for Greece's economy, 59 percent consider that migrants are taking their jobs and 57 percent that cultural life has deteriorated because of migrants, rather than becoming enriched.
© Xinhua News Agency


Intl Week Against Racism – Employee campaign in the VW Group great success

28/3/2017- The Volkswagen Group gives a positive account of its commitment to the International Weeks Against Racism, a United Nations initiative. During the period from 13 to 26 March, Volkswagen sent out a clear signal against discrimination and xenophobia with a variety of initiatives. Group-wide, hundreds of employees of the brands, subsidiaries and locations participated in a photo campaign and showed their faces for a good cause. Chairman of the Board of Management Matthias Müller also chose to be photographed for the campaign and called for a clear stance against racism: “We live in a world in which increasingly undisguised intolerance is stirred up and the equality of people is questioned. Those who do that like to refer to themselves as the voice of the people. But they are not.”

Employees were encouraged by the Group to send in a photo of themselves with the statement “I am against racism”. Hundreds of employees from 34 locations around the world – from Argentina to Taiwan, from Norway to South Africa and from Mexico to Poland – participated and submitted their photos. Brands and locations also brought additional, separate days of action against racism to life. Dr Karlheinz Blessing, Group Board of Management for Human Resources and Organisation, was impressed by the commitment of the employees: “The diversity of cultures and nations within the workforce has always been part of Volkswagen’s DNA. I am pleased that the employees of Volkswagen are showing a clear stance against any form of intolerance and xenophobia.”

Bernd Osterloh, Chairman of the Group and General Works Council, pointed out that: “There is no getting around respect and tolerance! At the Wolfsburg location alone, people from more than 105 countries work closely together and every day they are living proof that for Volkswagen, togetherness is a matter of course. Volkswagen and VfL Wolfsburg also joined together to show racism “the red card” in the home game with Darmstadt 98 in the Volkswagen Arena. The players escort children were wearing T-shirts with the message “100% against racism and 100% for human dignity”, banner advertising and an article in the stadium magazine also supported the initiative.

The foundation Stiftung Internationale Wochen gegen Rassismus coordinates this Germany-wide commitment by the different partners. This year, more than 1.700 events were reported to the Foundation nationwide, including discussions, film screenings, workshops and lectures. As an important business partner, Volkswagen Group supported the foundation with a donation. As well as the Volkswagen Group, other companies and numerous cities, municipalities, non-governmental organisations, associations and groupings are also involved. Dr Jürgen Micksch, board member of the foundation: “We are impressed by what Volkswagen has managed to put together this year, and look forward to working together in the coming year.”

The International Weeks Against Racism memorialise an event in Sharpeville, South Africa. On 21 March 1960, a peaceful demonstration there in response to an apartheid law was brutally suppressed and 69 people were killed. In 1966, the United Nations declared 21 March as the “International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination”. Over time, the campaign weeks have grown out of this. The following video gives an impression of the wide-ranging participation in the employee photo campaign:
© Automotive World


Intl Day Against Racism: Are EU institutions serious about racism?

On Internatioonal Day Against Racial Discrimination, the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) calls on EU institutions to do more than just pay lip service to the fight against racial discrimination and be vocal against the normalisation of racism.

21/3/2017- Numerous accounts of high-level European politicians and Members of European Parliament making racist statements are having a damaging impact on ethnic and religious minorities and polarising European society. Despite the severity of many of these cases, there has been a notable lack of reaction by the EU Commission President or Vice-President Timmermans, responsible for fundamental rights. This silence and lack of condemnation indicates a disregard for European Union values of equality and non-discrimination. While we acknowledge that there are so many instances of racist speech that condemning each of these is impossible, and that EU leaders need to be selective in their condemnations, a number of crucial opportunities to reassess the EU’s commitment to anti-racism and bring forward a strong positive narrative have been missed.

Anti-racism organisations are beginning to question whether the EU is serious about tackling racism. Especially in the current context of xenophobic and hateful political discourses in many EU Member States, the EU must speak out publicly against instances of racist speech. It should also lead the way in developing an inclusive narrative to ensure that the diverse population of Europe feels included and protected, and feels enabled to contribute positively to our societies. While the European Parliament has introduced rules to sanction hate speech by MEPs within the Chamber, sending out an important signal that it does not accept hatred, the European Commission is lagging behind when it comes to ensuring that heads of states, politicians and official representatives are held accountable for racist statements.

Another indication of the poor record of EU institutions in this area is the low rates of representation of individuals from ethnic and religious minority backgrounds and the lack of diversity within their ranks. EU institutions should have clear and detailed plans to address issues of equality, representation and discrimination within their workforce. “The fact that there is not even a symbolic official celebration of International Day Against Racial Discrimination says a lot about how seriously the EU institutions take racism”, said Amel Yacef, ENAR Chair. “At a time when racist discourses and policies are rife across the European Union, this would have been the least they could do. EU institutions must step up their game and show strong leadership and commitment to counter racism and act for equality.”
© EUropean Network Against Racism


Netherlands: Anne Frank House, Facebook Partner On Chat-Bot With Teenage Diarist

People can now “chat” with Anne Frank through a computer-generated bot.

21/3/2017- The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and Facebook have partnered on the bot, which was released at the museum Tuesday by Prince Constantijn of the Netherlands in honor of International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Anne Frank House said in a statement. The bot is designed to provide information on the life story of Anne Frank in the form of a personalized chat conversation. It also provides visitor information about the Anne Frank House. “We want to share the life story of Anne Frank with as many people as possible,” Ronald Leopold, managing director of the Anne Frank Foundation, said in the statement. “People from all over the world can now receive instant answers to their questions about Anne Frank, her family, Anne’s diary, and the era they lived in.

With this bot, Facebook Netherlands offers us an innovative possibility to reach a big audience, especially youngsters.” The prince said the bot, which is powered by deep learning Artificial Intelligence, is more than a “fun gadget.” “It is a way to reach people all over the world and inform them about Anne Frank’s life and warn them for the risks and effects of racism and discrimination,” he said. “That is ultimately what new technologies should be used for: to better our lives and conquer the challenges society faces.” The Anne Frank House said it is one of the first museums worldwide to use this technology on the Facebook Messenger platform.
© JTA News.


Ahead of International Day, UN rights chief urges governments to target hate speech, crimes

20/3/2017- On the eve of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the United Nations human rights chief today reminded Governments around the world that they have a legal obligation to stop hate speech and hate crimes, and called on people everywhere to “stand up for someone’s rights.” “Politics of division and the rhetoric of intolerance are targeting racial, ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities, and migrants and refugees. Words of fear and loathing can, and do, have real consequences,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said. The UN High Commissioner’s statement comes ahead of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, marked annually on 21 March. The theme for this year is ending racial profiling and incitement to hatred, including as it relates to people’s attitudes and actions towards migration.

At the Summit for Refugees and Migrants in September 2016, UN Member States adopted a Declaration strongly condemning acts and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. The Summit also sparked the UN’s Together initiative to change negative perceptions and attitudes aimed at refugees and migrants. In his statement, Mr. Zeid said that States do not have any excuse to allow racism and xenophobia to fester. States “have the legal obligation to prohibit and eliminate racial discrimination, to guarantee the right of everyone, no matter their race, colour, national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law,” the senior UN official said.

He urged Governments to adopt legislation expressly prohibiting racist hate speech, including the dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred, incitement to racial discrimination, and threats or incitement to violence. “It is not an attack on free speech or the silencing of controversial ideas or criticism, but a recognition that the right to freedom of expression carries with it special duties and responsibilities,” Mr. Zeid said. To promote human rights, the UN High Commissioner’s office, known by its acronym OHCHR, is asking people around the world to , “Stand up for Someone’s Rights Today”. The campaign urges people to take practical steps in their own communities to take a stand for humanity.
© UN News Centre


Canada: Screening of Hidden Figures marks Action Week Against Racism

West Island arts-outreach organization Overture with the Arts is hosting a special screening of the film Hidden Figures at Cinéma Guzzo des Sources on Thursday, March 23. The evening begins with a performance by members of the OWTA program Girls Unite of one of two original songs written by West Islander and Juno Nominee Patrick Lehman.

21/3/2017- Lehman wrote the songs in response to the global Women’s March which took place Jan. 21 and to mark this month’s Action Week Against Racism and the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination which took place on March 21. The Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures tells the story of a trio of African-American women whose work played a vital role in the shaping of NASA’s space program. Girls Unite members have recorded both of Lehman’s songs which will be available on iTunes in April. As part of the anti-racist initiative, graffiti-removal expert Corey Fleischer is touring schools to talk about his push to remove racist graffiti. The tour is funded by the Jewish Community Foundation of Montreal. Tickets for the Hidden Figures screening cost $20 and include popcorn and a drink. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. For more information about OWTA, visit
© The Montreal Gazette.


Canada: Intl Day Against Racism March to be held in Vancouver

20/3/2017- There has been no shortage of racist incidents in Metro Vancouver arising since the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, ranging from the distribution of anti-Chinese flyers to bomb threats at the Vancouver Jewish Community Centre. However, there has been an equally pronounced uprising of activism to counter and rally against discrimination. Another march in Vancouver is being organized, this time for the International Day Against Racism. Although the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is on Tuesday (March 21), a Vancouver march will be held on Sunday (March 26) from 1 to 4 p.m. at Thornton Park (1166 Main Street). The march will proceed through Chinatown and end at Victory Square Park at West Hastings and Cambie streets. The march is against racism, Islamophobia, bigotry, and hate propaganda.

It is also intended to be a protest against Bills C-24 (which allows the government to revoke Canadian citizenship from dual citizens convicted of terrorism, treason, or other offences), C-44 (the Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act), and C-51 (which extends Canada's anti-terrorism legislation and grants greater powers to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service) and the Canada–U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, which requires refugee claimants to request refugee protection in the first safe country they arrive in. The event is being sponsored by the Pacific chapter to the Coalition Against Bigotry, Black Lives Matter Vancouver, Radical Desis, Siraat, Latinos in Action, Antifa Vancouver, the South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy, Critical Muslim Voices, Salaam Vancouver, the Vancouver Taiko Society, and Watari. For full details, visit the Facebook event page for the march.
© Straight


Cyprus: Collective duty to stand against racism, Foreign Minister points out

21/3/2017- Far too many people continue to be discriminated against because of the colour of their skin or their ethnic background, Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cyprus, Ioannis Kasoulides stressed today, in a written statement, on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Noting that the situation in Europe is particularly disturbing, he said that populist and nationalist movements are on the rise. `Migrants and refugees are among the first victims of this worrying trend and are often targeted or used as a scapegoat` he pointed out. Kasoulides stressed that fighting racism is today more important than ever. “Everybody has a role to play, primarily we, politicians and public figures, undertake a particular responsibility to maintain the strength of our open European societies and to build communities inclusive of all people, without discrimination.” “We have a collective duty to stand against racism and all forms of discrimination whenever and wherever they occur. The Council of Europe is and will continue to be, an important stakeholder actively promoting the fundamental equality between all human beings”, he concluded.
© Cyprus Mail


Cyprus: Intl Day for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination

20/3/2017- On the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination on March 21st, KISA – Action for Equality, Support, Anti-racism as well as the Refugee Rights Association (RRA) express their deep concern in regards to the upsurge of nationalism and racism as well as in regards to various offenses which are committed on this basis, both in Cyprus and worldwide. At the same time, the two organizations emphasize the need for the rapid adoption of a zero-tolerance policy against any form of discrimination, xenophobia, intolerance and racism.

The referendum in Britain to exit the EU[i], D. Trump’s[ii] election in the USA, the policies and measures taken from the Hungarian Government[iii] and other governments of EU member states against migrants and refugees as well as the EU’s reactionary withdrawals from any matters relating to human rights in order to shirk from its responsibilities and satisfy an extremely racist and far-right audience, have led to a strong wave of racism and racist violence against refugees and migrants but also against those who persist in safeguarding human rights and the rule of law. The two organizations also point to the development in Turkey: rise of anti-refugee sentiments in the society as well as oppressive policies of the Turkish state against Kurdish people whereas an undeclared war is going on, leaving millions internally displaced in Kurdish cities and towns, closing down NGOs including those that work for human rights as well as the rights of the displaced, criminalizing politicians and taking over local authorities.

Experience has proven that any tolerance towards the forces that espouse and promote racism and intolerance does not undermine their fury, but also provides them with the political cover to further intensify their attacks against refugees, migrants, and ethnic minorities. The shameful EU-Turkey agreement concerning migrants a year ago, does not only constitute a strong example concerning the democratic forces’ concessions towards the far-right and neo-fascist circles throughout Europe, but it has also contributed to strengthen and embolden these groups and it has further contributed to the upsurge of racist violence and hate crimes.

The responsibility of the European governments, particularly of countries that have the power to shape EU policies, is even greater since they have been refusing for many years to deal with issues such as migration and asylum by adopting, for example, a common asylum system, based on the principles on which the EU is founded. Such a treatment would contribute both to better prepare European societies in respect to subsequent developments as well as to tackle with issues such as populism, the extreme right, nationalism and neo-Nazism – fascism.

In Cyprus, both in the north as well as in the south, we are witnessing the rise of nationalism – chauvinism, racism, xenophobia and hate crimes. Repeated attacks against Turkish-Cypriots by Greek-Cypriot nationalists[iv] cannot be considered in any way as individual acts since they are directly related to the outbreak of Greek-Cypriot nationalism and the intense mobilization of right-wing / neo-Nazi forces during the recent period. A similar atmosphere prevails in the Turkish-Cypriot community, demonstrating that nationalists throughout the island share common reflexes whenever there is a prospect of a solution to the Cyprus problem, regardless of national origin.

In light of all of the above, KISA and the RRA call for the society to proceed with:
# The development of a comprehensive plan of action to combat racism, nationalism and crimes committed in their name.
# Immediate and effective reaction against events involving racist violence and hate crimes, and exemplary punishment against the perpetrators.
# Taking all necessary measures to ensure the integration of immigrants / refugees in society and their equal access to human rights, regardless of their origin or any other difference.

It is also noted that, in the framework of the European Action Week Against Racism, KISA and RRA are organizing an open discussion entitled “Nationalism – Racism and Hate Crimes.” The discussion will take place at the Home for Cooperation, on Tuesday (21/03/2017) at 18:00. The press release and the upcoming event are within the framework of the three-year project “Human Rights for All!” which is implemented by RRA and KISA. The overall aim of the project is to combat racism and to ensure that human rights of refugees are respected. Main project activities include trainings on asylum, standards of detention, protection from ill-treatment & torture; thematic reports on human rights of refugees; workshops for refugees on their rights; awareness-raising campaigns on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination; panel discussion on migration and asylum policy in a unified Cyprus; summer volunteer programs and advocate for legal change in northern Cyprus.

This project is funded by the European Union under the Cypriot Civil Society in Action programme and implemented by RRA in partnership with KISA.

[i] See a relevant article:

[ii] See relevant article:

[iii] See for example:

[iv] See examples mentioned in a recent press release by KISA:

[v] For more information about the event please see:

[vi]For more information,please see:


Belgium: A week of anti-racism events starts in Brussels

MRAX (Movement against Racism, Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia) launched their week of anti-racism events in the Town hall in Brussels on Friday.

18/3/2017- The Brussels Councillor for equal opportunities, Mohamed Ouriaghli, attended. This is the 11th such event. This year’s title is “Reducing a person to a unique identity is the beginning of racism”. It is part of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation’s Platform for the fight against racism and discrimination’s current campaign. The Councillor reminded those present that the city authorities’ are committed to the fight against racism. The theme for this week’s events is assigning identity, defined as a social construction that creates an “other” based on differentiating criteria which could justify oppression and exploitation, like slavery. The aim is to remind people that “races” don’t exist and that this type of categorisation was used to assert the domination of privileged groups.

“Today, we have a situation where racists are almost in a majority and anti-racists have to justify their beliefs”, says Vincent Cornil, the director of MRAX. “The government has a discriminatory agenda and they criminalise unregistered people, categorise immigrants etc in their speeches. We do react up to a point, but we have to take back control and go on the offensive. This type of week recreates a synergy and convergence between the parties involved to form a bond of strength”.

Around 25 events have been planned. Among them is the award ceremony for the “Plume contre la racisme” competition, which will be held at the Saint-Michel theatre on Tuesday afternoon. This competition was for schools within the Brussels-Wallonia Federation. There is also a conference on the influence institutional racism has on the process of assigning identity. It will take place at the MRAX building in rue de la Poste at 7pm on Tuesday. “Bob Marrakesh” will close the week at 5pm on Sunday, at the MAGH hall in rue du Poinçon, Brussels.
© The Brussels Times


UK: London anti-racism march draws tens of thousands of protesters

Speakers at rally berate populism behind the rise of the far-right in Europe, Britain’s vote to leave the EU, and Donald Trump

18/3/2017- As many as 30,000 people have joined a march against racism in London during which campaigners voiced their opposition to the wave of populism they say elected Donald Trump, saw Britain vote to leave the EU and fuelled the rise of far-right politics around Europe. The former Guantánamo Bay prisoner Moazzam Begg, one of the speakers at the Saturday protest, said Trump was one of the “bad dudes” who should be sent to the internment camp in Cuba. Speaking from a stage in Parliament Square, Begg referenced a speech by the US president in which he said he would be sending more inmates to the controversial facility. “The rise of the far right and the Nazis and fascists has seen a new wave with the election of Donald Trump, who said when he came to power, ‘I’m going to load up Guantánamo with some bad dudes,” he said. “So my response is: ‘When are you going, dude?”

Begg, a British Pakistani from Birmingham, joined the Labour MP for Tottenham, David Lammy, in slamming a small group of counter-protesters. Suspected to be from the far-right political group the English Defence League (EDL), the group were spotted near crowds of anti-racism marchers on their way from Regent Street to Parliament Square. He said: “We have smashed the EDL. They are no longer of any consequence. But let’s not pat ourselves on the back too early, because some of their views have become mainstream.” Begg spent almost three years under US custody on suspicion of terrorist affiliations between 2002 and 2005. He was later released and has spoken widely of his experiences as a prisoner in Guantánamo Bay and other detainment camps under US control.

Anti-racism supporters carrying signs with colourful slogans including “Migrants make our NHS” and “Black Lives Matter” led a peaceful but spirited march through the fashionable thoroughfares of Regent Street and Haymarket, banging drums and singing songs. Lammy said this week’s meeting between the former Ukip leader and Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage and the far-right French politician Marine Le Pen was evidence of the current ill-feeling towards minorities. “This week Nigel Farage met Marie Le Pen and we are sending a message that we don’t want that kind of fascism and xenophobia across our planet and in our country,” he said. “My parents arrived in this county in the 1950s to signs that said, ‘No blacks, no Irish, no dogs’, and we thought … that by the time we got to the 21st century we had turned our backs on racism. And then, we get June 23rd. We get a rise in hate crime across the country almost by 50%.”
© The Guardian.


UK: Hundreds marched through Cardiff to make a stand against racism

Teacher Juhel Miah, who was denied entry to the US, spoke at the rally

18/3/2017- Hundreds of people marched through Cardiff to protest against “rising” racism. Stand Up To Racism organised the march which ended with speeches by the Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood and Swansea teacher Juhel Miah who was denied entry into the US. Ms Wood said “British nationalism” will be beaten by “civic, inclusive Welshness” at the rally as similar events were held across the UK on Saturday. A Stand Up To Racism Wales spokesperson said: “We see the great march today as just the first step in the creation of a mass movement against racism in Wales.

“But what we really want is an organisation, in every town and city, that will react quickly to knock down any attempt to scapegoat refugees, ‘foreigners’, people from diverse backgrounds, minority religions or simply people with a different coloured skin. “We are going to create a movement that celebrates our diversity. We will have music, art and drama. “We will hound any politician who plays the racist card. We will not let politicians or the mainstream media, apparently nowadays the same thing, return us to the 1930s. “Their racist ‘divide and rule’ tactic is a relic from our sad and bloody colonial past. “Our movement is here to make sure that the future is a future worth living for all of us!” “We call on everyone to Stand Up To Racism.” The spokesperson said they have plans to hold similar marches in Aberystwyth and Wrexham .

Hundreds of people joined the march towards City Hall, where several people spoke including Welsh school teacher Juhel Miah. Mr Miah, 25, was denied entry to the US when he was travelling with a group from Llangatwg Community School in February. Mr Miah, whose full name is Mohammed Juhel Miah, told the rally: “When I was going back to get my hand luggage, as you can imagine, everyone was staring at me and they were looking at me like I was threat - as if I’d done something wrong. “I had all the same documents as all the other teachers and all the other pupils. “The only difference between them and me was, possibly, the colour of my skin, I was a Muslim and my name was Mohammed Juhel Miah.” Mr Miah, from Birchgrove in Swansea, read from a letter sent by the US Embassy, which claimed he had never been refused entry to the US and was able to apply for a visa in the future. Mr Miah said that at the time he did have a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization visa.

Leader of Plaid Cymru Leanne Wood also spoke, weeks after she outlined her tolerant vision of Wales at their party conference. Ms Wood said: “All of us standing here today are united against racism, and racism is on the rise. “Anyone who uses social media can see how racists have become emboldened. “Abuse of all kinds is on the rise. “We are all here to say no. Not here, not in our communities, not in Wales, not anywhere. “Racism and intolerance will be challenged and we will stomp it out.” Ms Wood criticised the Prime Minister Theresa May, who visited Cardiff on Friday. Ms Wood said: “She attacked my party, Plaid Cymru and the SNP as divisive, obsessive nationalist. “There was no mention of UKIP in that context and there was no sense of irony after the most divisive obsessive, nationalistic campaign we now call Brexit.” To cheers from the crowd, Ms Wood added: “In my view we will beat this British nationalism with civic, inclusive Welshness.”

Similar protests took place in London and Glasgow.
© Wales Online


Headlines 17 March, 2017

Refugees in Greece suffering after EU deal with Turkey, say NGOs

Oxfam and other groups tell of more than 14,000 trapped in abysmal conditions through ‘degrading asylum policies’ 

17/3/2017- Greece is being used as a testing ground for degrading asylum policies that fall short of the democratic values Europe would normally uphold, say refugee groups marking the first anniversary of a deal designed to slow arrivals to the continent. The accord struck last year between Turkey and the EU has been praised in some quarters for having slowed arrivals into Europe and reduced deaths in the Aegean sea. But basic human rights were lost in the process, the organisations claim. “Greece has become a testing ground for policies that are eroding international protection standards,” said the Norwegian Refugee Council, International Rescue Committee and Oxfam, in a joint report based on extensive fieldwork on Aegean islands where more than 14,000 men, women and children are trapped in abysmal conditions. “Over the course of the year, there have been deaths, suicide attempts, people engaging in self harm, and children, women and men exposed to abuse and sexual violence.” 

The withering assessment, coming almost 12 months to the day since the agreement was reached between Ankara and Brussels, is in stark contrast to the official view of an accord hailed by the EU, at the time, as a breakthrough in the migration crisis. Agreed in exchange for €6bn in refugee aid to Ankara, it was seen as a vital step in resolving a crisis that at its height threatened to tear the bloc apart. Since its implementation, the number of refugees and migrants going to Europe via Turkey has dropped dramatically. Islands such as Lesbos, which is near Turkey, are reporting 100 arrivals or fewer a day, while in 2015, when more than 1 million people streamed into Europe, it received 10,000 men, women and children over one weekend. But NGOs say the reality on the ground is that the deal has prolonged and exacerbated human suffering. The report found that, incarcerated on Greek islands, asylum seekers had been made to live in substandard and overcrowded conditions for months on end.

With limited access to fair and effective asylum procedures they were subject to “a convoluted and constantly changing process” that lacked oversights and checks and balances. Often legal experts were unable to keep track of a system that was impossible for people to navigate alone. A separate report by Save the Children and Médecins Sans Frontières warned that there were worrying levels of mental health problems among migrants and refugees in the Greek camps. It said people including children as young as nine were cutting themselves, attempting suicide and using drugs to cope with the “endless misery”. Mental health was “rapidly deteriorating due to the conditions created as a result of this deal”, Save the Children said.

About 14,115 people – almost double the official capacity – are living in facilities on Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Kos and Leros, the five Aegean islands that have borne the brunt of the influx. Some 62,434 people are stranded across Greece, according to government figures released on Wednesday. The report expressed the NGOs’ fears that the deal would become a blueprint for crises elsewhere. “Beyond the deeply concerning situation in Greece, the EU is looking to replicate this model elsewhere, and, in so doing, risks setting a dangerous precedent for the rest of the world,” said the report. It added: “The EU has a proud history of commitment to international law and human rights, which has driven its policies for 60 years. Now is the time for Europe to show global leadership on migration by adopting policies that uphold these values, rather than triggering a race to the bottom.”

Dimitris Christopoulos, head of the International Federation for Human Rights, said: “Europe is clearly trying to externalise refugee and migrant management by creating buffer zones around the EU or at its periphery, as is the case with Greece. This is a political choice that not only undermines international refugee law and protection but ultimately the democratic values of Europe.” In a separate statement, Amnesty International said the deal had not only failed on its own terms but had left thousands of people exposed to squalid and unsafe conditions on Greek islands. John Dalhuisen, Amnesty’s Europe director, said: “Today marks a dark day in the history of refugee protection – one in which Europe’s leaders attempted to buy themselves out of their international obligations, heedless of the cost in human misery. A year ago, the Greek islands were transformed into de facto holding pens, as Europe’s shores went from being sites of sanctuary into places of peril. One year on, thousands remain stranded in a dangerous, desperate and seemingly endless limbo.”

The report by the NRC, IRC and Oxfam said that, instead of assessing asylum claims on merit, the entire system on the islands was aimed at returning refugees to Turkey even though Greek appeals courts had in many cases deemed Turkey an unsafe third country for summary returns.
© The Guardian.


Turkey: Erdogan accuses EU of 'crusade' against Islam

The Turkish president has also said Europe is regressing to the pre-World War II era. German Chancellor Angel Merkel called for an end to the exchange of "insults."

17/3/2017- In a speech given to supporters in the western Turkish city of Sakarya, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan invoked the medieval religious wars between Christian Europe and the Islamic Middle East in the context of present-day escalating tensions between the European Union and Turkey. "My dear brothers, a battle has started between the cross and the half moon. There can be no other explanation," Erdogan said on Thursday. The Turkish president also stated the European Court of Justice's (ECJ) Tuesday ruling, which permits companies to ban the Islamic headscarf as part of policies barring religious symbols in the workplace, was the start of a "crusade" by Europe.

Erdogan has recently upped his antagonistic rhetoric towards Europe after Germany and the Netherlands both canceled campaign appearances by Turkish politicians. The events were intended to drum up support for an April 16 referendum that, if approved, would vastly expand Erdogan's presidential powers. Erdogan has repeatedly compared the behavior of German and Dutch politicians to that of "Nazis" and accused Europe of hosting the "spirit of fascism." "Europe is swiftly rolling back to the days before World War II," he said in his speech in Sakarya.

Post-election attacks on the Netherlands
Erdogan and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also took aim at the Netherlands on Thursday despite the previous day's election result, in which Dutch voters rejected right-wing populist Geert Wilders and his Islamophobic and anti-immigration platform. "Hey Rutte! You may have emerged as the number one party in the election but you must know that you have lost Turkey as your friend," Erdogan said in his televised speech. Many analysts believe Rutte's hardline approach to prohibiting Turkish politicians from campaigning in the Netherlands helped him gain the support of undecided voters who buoyed him to victory over Wilders.

Despite Turkey's previous criticism of the virulently anti-Islam Wilders, Cavusoglu told a Turkish broadcaster on Thursday that there was "no difference" between the liberal Rutte and "fascist" Wilders. The antagonistic rhetoric and authoritarian power expansions, as well as Ankara's threats to suspend the 2016 migration agreement with the EU, has thrown the EU neighbor's long-standing bid for entry into the bloc into question. However, Cavusoglu later said in a different interview that "no reason" existed for Turkey to "move away from Europe."

Merkel: 'The insults need to stop'
For her part, German Chancellor Angela Merkel denounced Erdogan's latest round of accusations. The Turkish president accused Merkel this week of supporting terrorists in the anti-Erdogan Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). "I don't intend to participate in this race to trade provocations," she told the German regional newspaper "Saarbrücker Zeitung." "The insults need to stop," she added in comments printed in the paper's Friday edition, referencing Turkey's Nazi comparisons aimed at the Netherlands. Merkel stated that Turkish political leaders are permitted to appear in the country under certain conditions: they must disclose who will appear and for what goal, and the foreign politicians must abide by Germany's laws and constitutional principles. "We do not give anyone a carte blanche for the future," she added. The chancellor's comments came the same day the city of Hannover scrapped a Friday rally organized by the Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD) at which a senior Erdogan government official was set to appear. The last-minute cancellation indicates tempers could get hotter and the Turkish-German relationship perhaps even cooler.
© The Deutsche Welle*


French restaurateur fined over Islamophobic attack on Muslim women

17/3/2017- A French restaurateur was ordered to pay 7,000 Euros compensation on Thursday for insulting two veiled Muslim women and forcing them to leave his restaurant in August 2016. The French man was charged with "discriminating people based on their religions in a business place open to public." The court also ordered him to hang the court order on his restaurant's window as well as to pay one 'symbolic' euro to the Collective against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), an activist group supporting the women. Last August, the encounter at Le Cenacle restaurant in Tremblay-en-France outside of Paris was filmed by one of the two women and posted online which showed the other saying "We don't want to be served by racists." The man in the smartphone clip responds that "racists like me don't plant bombs and don't kill people". He added that "terrorists are Muslim and all Muslims are terrorists. I don't want people like you in my place. Now [that] you know it you can get out". The owner later issued an apology to all Muslims on BFM television.
© The Daily Sabah


France: Global financiers line up to engage with Le Pen

Bankers and fund managers factor in possible French presidential victory for far right

17/3/2017- Fund managers, bankers and foreign diplomats are hurrying to meet France’s far-right National Front to learn more about its programme, in a sign of how seriously the party is being taken six weeks before the presidential election. Analysts at banks and funds including UBS, BlackRock and Barclays have met FN officials to discuss its economic plans, according to people close to the party. Representatives from dozens of governments including the US, Argentina, Sweden and Denmark have also met FN officials or attended party events, many for the first time. “We have had people queueing up to talk to us about our programme,” said Mikael Sala, an economic adviser to Marine Le Pen, party leader and presidential candidate. The interest underlines how markets and governments are considering the possibility that Ms Le Pen might win power, potentially putting her in a position to take the eurozone’s second-largest economy out of the single currency and hold a “Frexit” referendum on leaving the EU.

While polls still suggest the FN leader will lose the second round in May, investors have been pricing in the increased likelihood of a victory as a rival on the centre-right, François Fillon, is weakened by a scandal about jobs for his wife and children. The US, Argentine, Swedish and Danish embassies in Paris confirmed that either their ambassadors or domestic political specialists had held meetings with senior FN officials in recent months. The embassies said the meetings were part of their role to speak to all big parties in France. The Argentine embassy said its ambassador’s meeting with the FN was a chance to discuss its “vision” for Europe. Their approach is in sharp contrast to the line taken by the UK and Germany, neither of which talk to the far-right party. “We have a policy of not engaging. There is a longstanding policy,” Ed Llewellyn, the UK ambassador to Paris, told a UK parliamentary committee in January.

A spokesperson for BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, said: “As part of election fact-finding research conducted earlier this year, a team of investment strategists from the BlackRock Investment Institute met the economic teams of the main French presidential candidates to better understand their economic policy proposals.” Barclays and UBS declined to comment. Florian Philippot, the FN’s chief strategist and one of Ms Le Pen’s main advisers, has met diplomats from five European countries and three from Asia in recent weeks, according to Bertrand Dutheil de La Rochère, a member of the FN’s strategic committee. “People want to talk about our programme to leave the euro as well as our immigration policy,” said Mr de La Rochère. “They see that victory is now likely.” Three weeks ago Ms Le Pen also laid out her international vision in a speech attended by representatives of 42 countries, according to the FN.

While Ms Le Pen is almost certain to get through to the second round, most pollsters assume she will then be beaten by any opponent — just as her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, was defeated by an anti-FN coalition when he reached the second round of the election in 2002. However, Ms Le Pen is seen as likely to do much better than Mr Le Pen because she is more moderate, while French politics has become more unpredictable. Voters in the largest centre-left and centre-right parties chose surprise candidates during the primary elections. Thomas Guénolé, a lecturer at Sciences-Po university, said diplomatic and investor meetings with the FN showed the growing fear of a victory by Ms Le Pen. He said he had also been contacted by several “major US investors” to ask about the chance of a Le Pen victory. “The meetings do not show that the FN’s ideas have more credibility . . . but that everyone is scared of Ms Le Pen winning,” he said.
© The Financial Times*


Le Pen foes relish Dutch vote, but French election may be different

16/3/2017- Adversaries of Marine Le Pen expressed relief on Thursday after her ally Geert Wilders won fewer seats than expected in a Dutch election, but analysts warned against reading too much into the result ahead of France's tight presidential race. They said far-right leader Le Pen's campaign in France is better planned and targeted than that of Wilders' party, while a standoff between the Dutch and Turkish governments had given a "one-off" boost to incumbent Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte. Centre-right Rutte's decisive victory over anti-immigrant, eurosceptic Wilders delighted European Union leaders and others concerned about rising populism across the bloc in the wake of last year's shock Brexit vote. Le Pen's rivals for the presidency were quick to welcome the Dutch result, which centrist Emmanuel Macron said showed that "a breakthrough for the extreme right is not a foregone conclusion and that progressives are gaining momentum".

Polls suggest that Macron, 39, an independent, will make it through the election's April 23 first round before comfortably beating the National Front's Le Pen in the run-off on May 7. Conservative Francois Fillon, an ex-prime minister who has slipped behind Le Pen and Macron after being the frontrunner, said the Dutch result underlined that opinion polls are flawed. "We were all being told this was going to be a triumph for the extreme right," he said. "And yet again the outcome shows that it's the (political) center and right that provide the best bulwark against populism and extremism." Outgoing Socialist President Francois Hollande referred to a "clear victory against extremism". Le Pen and Wilders were pictured together in a series of light-hearted "selfies" in January when they met with other far-right politicians who hope rising anti-establishment sentiment across Europe will give them a lift at the ballot box.

The Dutch result drove the euro higher and analysts in the banking and investment industry, where many see Le Pen as a grave danger because of her plans to quit the single currency and probably the European Union too, also took heart. "To whatever extent this vote is a signal on France, the high turnout and rally towards the mainstream center look bad for her (Le Pen)," said Anna Stupnytska, Global Economist at Fidelity International. "The structure of the French presidential election also creates additional obstacles to any far-right victory in France. As such, the Dutch result may be remembered as the turning point in the popularity of populism for 2017." Although Wilders' party came second in the vote and actually gained seats, it fell short of its best performance in a national election and has no chance of joining a coalition government as rival parties have shunned it.

With Le Pen conspicuously silent, it fell to National Front secretary-general Nicolas Bay to put a positive face on Wilders' showing. He said the rise in the number of seats won by the party, to 20 from 15, was a "partial victory even if not the final victory". He said Rutte's campaign had undoubtedly been boosted late in the campaign by the confrontation with Turkey, which saw him ban Turkish government politicians from staging rallies in the Netherlands for expatriate voters. Mabel Berezin, professor of sociology at Cornell University in the United States, said the French election would still provide the key test of anti-establishment power in Europe. "That is where the populist action is and that is what we should be focusing upon," she said.

Le Pen, 48, has built up a solid following by appealing to working class voters dismayed by five years of left-wing rule, a 10 percent jobless rate and restraints on public spending. Surveys regularly show that upwards of three-quarters of pro-Le Pen respondents are already absolutely certain they will vote for her. For Macron, that share is closer to one in two. And while Fillon has crashed from first to third place in polls after a scandal over payments from public funds to his wife, Le Pen has shrugged off complaints about her payment of European Union funds to bodyguard and assistants.
© Reuters


Is Trump Dragging Down the European Far-Right?

Worse-than-expected results for the Netherlands’s Geert Wilders are only the latest sign that the American president’s poor standing is harming politicians aligned with him.

16/3/2017- Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential election in November was heralded as the latest in a series of triumphs for the populist right: First there was Brexit, followed by a series of gains for right-wing, anti-immigration parties in Europe. When Italians voted against a referendum backed by Prime Minster Matteo Renzi in December, it looked like proof of the populist wave’s continued surge. But a poorer-than-expected showing by Geert Wilders’s Dutch Freedom Party (PVV), with nearly 80 percent turnout, in elections on Wednesday complicates the picture. While Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy lost eight seats, it will be the biggest party in the 150-seat Dutch parliament. Wilders’s party won 20, short of the 30 it hoped to pick up. It’s too soon to declare the populist wave dead, but with Wilders’s stumble, it’s worth at least raising the question of whether Trump’s victory may have been the high-water mark for the right-wing populist movement.

Rutte, who is expected to remain in power, is hardly a dove on immigration, but he’s not as hardline as Wilders. And unlike the platinum-pompadoured populist, he is favorable toward European integration. Wilders has been styled in the press as the Dutch Donald Trump, a comparison that he has at times courted—Wilders dropped by the 2016 Republican National Convention, where Trump was formally nominated, even as many top Republicans stayed away. He contributes to Breitbart, the court organ of the Trump administration. Even his campaign slogan was a variation on Trump’s. But as the Dutch campaign ramped up, Wilders grew much more cautious about invoking the U.S. president. This was no coincidence: By mid-February, when the race in the Netherlands began, Trump had been in office for several weeks, and Dutch voters had gotten a chance to observe him as president.

They didn’t like what they saw. “It’s a hard start for Wilders—he’s losing momentum, and this is partly because of Trump,” pollster Gijs Rademaker told The Wall Street Journal. Among poll respondents who had backed the PVV in December but no longer did by February, 60 percent thought Trump was doing a bad job. Wilders’s caginess about Trump doesn’t seem to have saved him; although PVV gained seats on Wednesday, it fell short of expectations, as well as his own prediction of a surprisingly strong result. And if Wilders is in fact a victim of Trump backlash in Europe, he might not be the last. While immediate reactions tend to be overly rash, Bloomberg’s Joe Weisenthal noted that immediately after preliminary results came in from the Netherlands, betting markets became much more bearish on the electoral chances of Marine Le Pen, the French presidential candidate who is aligned with

Wilders, and who consciously tried to associate herself with Trump. In Germany, meanwhile, Martin Schulz of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) has found his fortunes surging ahead of September’s general election. The SPD has been lost in the political wilderness for years, finding little purchase against the once-invincible Chancellor Angela Merkel. While Merkel has shown little use for Trump, or his disdain for the EU and NATO, Schulz has seized on the American president as a perfect foil, using him as a vehicle to make the case for European cooperation. The far-right Alternative for Germany party, meanwhile, remains far back, and has seen its standing fall somewhat in recent months. There’s a danger of overstating Trump’s effect on European politics, especially when viewing the situation from the United States. Internal dynamics play an essential role in each of these elections, and each country has its own problems. But there are good reasons to believe that Trump is playing some role in these contests.

Even before he was formally nominated, Trump was deeply unpopular in Europe. A June 2016 Pew poll found just 9 percent of Europeans had confidence in the Republican. With a few more months to evaluate him, they’ve hardly changed their minds. A YouGov/Handelsblatt poll at the beginning of the year found that sizable majorities in several European countries expected Trump to be a poor president; in France, the only country where a majority did not feel that way, a plurality did. A November poll found rising approval of the EU across the board, another sign of the pendulum potentially beginning to swing back. The bad polling for Trump, and the apparent damage that he’s doing to candidates associated with him, is all the more striking because when Europeans were polled on a Trump-style immigration ban in February, support averaged 55 percent across 10 countries, with majority support in eight of the 10.

In other words, it appears that even when Europeans are sympathetic to at least some of the proposals put forth by the far right, Trump’s poor personal reputation may be dragging down the politicians in Europe who have aligned themselves—and in some cases styled themselves after—Trump. This change of fortunes is particularly interesting because Trump continues to invoke Muslim immigration and terror attacks in Europe to justify his policies. During the presidential race, he campaigned with chief Brexiteer Nigel Farage and remains in touch with him. In one recent slapstick moment, Trump lamented the havoc terrorism was wreaking in Sweden, to the consternation of Swedes who had no idea to what he referred. American politicians who are aligned with Trump contend that there is a civilizational struggle in Europe, and that the struggle could spread to the United States next.

These lines of argument depend to a great extent on politicians in Europe kicking up a fuss about immigration and cultural change that provides fodder for the American discussion. In other words, the European far right is very good for Trump, but there are growing signs that Trump is not good for the European far right.
© The Atlantic


Greek neo-Nazis retain swagger despite two-year trial

Nearly two years in the dock over an anti-fascist rapper's murder have done little to blunt the swagger of Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn.

16/3/2017- The ultranationalist party remains the fourth largest in parliament, and the Greek authorities continue to grapple with how to confront the aggressive actions of many of its leading cadres. Thirteen Golden Dawn lawmakers -- and another four ex-MPs -- have been on trial since April 2015 accused of membership of a criminal organisation over the fatal stabbing of rapper Pavlos Fyssas in a street clash in 2013. Fyssas's murder shocked the country and sparked an investigation into the actions of Golden Dawn, which until then had not faced justice despite being linked to a campaign of violence against migrants and political opponents. First elected to parliament in January 2012, Golden Dawn's lawmakers continue to occupy an ambiguous role in a country that for years denied it had a problem with racism. In January, Golden Dawn lawmaker Yiannis Lagos stormed into a school in his local Athens constituency of Piraeus to protest at the teaching of refugee children on the premises. Another lawmaker, Panagiotis Iliopoulos of Volos, was photographed brandishing a wooden rod outside a local TV station where a protest against his party was taking place last week.

- 'Lack of coherence' -
In the Fyssas trial, the prosecution is trying to prove that Golden Dawn operated as a full-blown, tightly regimented criminal outfit that allegedly encouraged beatings and even killings. But the Greek authorities appear unable to take firm action against party members who have not been convicted of any crimes. In December, for example, Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos, head of the nationalist Independent Greeks (ANEL) party, was not able to prevent a neo-Nazi delegation from making a "patriotic" visit to islands facing Turkey. The delegation included Golden Dawn's chief ideologue Christos Pappas -- a noted admirer of Hitler -- and party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, who has a swastika tattoo on his arm. "There is a lack of coherence in the state's response," said Costis Papaioannou, a professor and activist who was until recently the justice ministry's general secretary for human rights. The trial "keeps pressure on the party but also sends the message that state institutions are not very alert to the problem", he told AFP.

- 'No lines to follow' -
"When it comes to deciding what to do with a parliamentary party whose leadership is on trial for crimes, there are no definite lines to follow," added Papaioannou, who has written a book on Golden Dawn. Pappas, Lagos, Kasidiaris and Iliopoulos are among the 13 Golden Dawn members on trial including party chief Nikos Michaloliakos. Another four defendants are either no longer MPs or have left the party. Thanassis Kabayiannis, one of the prosecution lawyers, says the ambiguity has given the accused "room for manoeuvre". In recent weeks, Golden Dawn lawmakers -- including some of those on trial -- have travelled to Greek islands hosting large populations of refugees to whip up anti-foreigner sentiment. But other commentators say the murder trial has nevertheless put a lid on the party's momentum, limiting its popularity to around seven percent in opinion polls. "For the first time, we see a kind of sanitary cordon put in place" against Golden Dawn, said Vassiliki Georgiadou, a political scientist who has also studied the group. And there are other signs that it is losing clout.

At a February demonstration against austerity measures staged by police, generally seen as some of the party's most enthusiastic supporters, police union members asked Golden Dawn MPs to leave. And a court in the western city of Patras acquitted the local Communist mayor who refused to grant the party municipal space in the last electoral campaign. Golden Dawn's top leaders were arrested in 2013 immediately after Fyssas's death but were eventually released after a maximum 18 months in pre-trial detention. Even the man who confessed to stabbing Fyssas, retired truck driver Yiorgos Roupakias, was conditionally released a year ago. In the last parliamentary election in September 2015, the neo-Nazis lost about 9,000 votes nationwide from their tally in the previous vote in January, but still finished third with 18 lawmakers. Golden Dawn recently dropped to 17 lawmakers and fourth place in parliament behind the Socialists after one of its MPs defected over a local constituency row.


Employers' Hijab Ban not 'Direct Discrimination,' European Court Says

14/3/2017- A Muslim woman who was fired over her wish to wear an Islamic headscarf at her job in Belgium did not suffer from direct discrimination, according to the highest court in the European Union. Because her employer had a general rule against religious or political displays, the court says, the woman wasn't treated differently than other workers. The decision by the European Court of Justice is among the most high-profile developments in a string of public and legal debates in Europe over the hijab — debates that have played out against a backdrop of rising nationalism and anti-Muslim sentiment. The dispute at the heart of today's ruling began more than 10 years ago, when receptionist Samira A. was told not to wear a hijab by her employer, security company G4S. That company and others have argued that they should be able to accommodate their customers and clients who don't want to deal with an employee who wears a headscarf.

When she was hired in 2003, Achbita did not wear a hijab to work. But when she told her bosses three years later that she wanted to begin wearing one, they refused to allow it, citing an unwritten rule meant to present neutrality to the firm's clients. Two months after the dispute began, G4S' unwritten rule became a company policy that stated, "employees are prohibited, in the workplace, from wearing any visible signs of their political, philosophical or religious beliefs and/or from engaging in any observance of such beliefs." The official rule was approved on May 29, 2006; one day before it went into effect on June 13, Achbita was fired. Achbita challenged her firing in court, saying she had been discriminated against based on her religion — and the case began winding its way toward the EU's highest court.

In its ruling, the court found that the company's rule "refers to the wearing of visible signs of political, philosophical or religious beliefs and therefore covers any manifestation of such beliefs without distinction." Saying that there's no sign the rule was applied differently to Achbita than any other employee, the court stated, "Accordingly, such an internal rule does not introduce a difference of treatment that is directly based on religion or belief." In its findings, the court noted that "it is not, however, inconceivable" for a Belgian court to conclude Achbita was the victim of indirect discrimination. The key, the court wrote, would be if a company rule "introduces a difference of treatment" that results "in persons adhering to a particular religion or belief being put at a particular disadvantage." "However, such indirect discrimination may be objectively justified by a legitimate aim," the high court said, such as an employer's desire for neutrality that prompts a ban on political, philosophical and religious symbols.


Spain: Why far-right populism hasn't caught on

Europe’s far-right is on the rise. The trend is nationalist and anti-immigrant. Extremist parties are poised to make gains in elections across the continent, from France to Holland to Germany.

14/3/2017- But in Spain, no such movement has gained traction. And you’d think it would, given years of recession, high unemployment and an influx of foreigners. To understand why Spain bucks the trend you might want to visit Villacañas, south of Madrid. This flat, dusty village was once abuzz with the sound of ... doors. Door factories. During Spain’s home-building boom in the 2000s, Villacañas was the main door supplier for the country, cranking out tens of thousands of them a day.

Then the bubble burst.
As you drive into town there are signs of a ruined economy everywhere: huge abandoned factories line the road, their windows busted out, their loading docks shuttered. Villacañas’s mayor, Santiago Garcia, says it’s been like this for the ten years he’s been in office. He worries about high unemployment and all the young people who continue to leave town. But one thing that’s not even on his radar, he says: the possibility of a far-right backlash at the polls. “I think a far-right, xenophobic, populist movement has to have effective leadership to gain ground,” he says. “And its messages [need to] coincide with what people are feeling.” In Spain, apparently, the far-right has neither an effective message nor messenger. There is one far-right party, Vox, running candidates. But it has a tiny following. “Here in the last local elections,” Garcia says, “Vox got three or maybe five votes. Not more.” Nationwide, Vox fared just as badly.

Given the hard-right swing across the European continent, what makes Spain different?
Folks outside Villacañas’s busiest lunch spot offer their take. Jesus Higueras, a 52-year-old handyman living on unemployment benefits, gets by on about $450 a month and free food from the town’s food bank. He says far-right ideas remind people of Franco — as in General Francisco Franco, the dictator who ruled Spain for half a century until 1975. “No one wants to return to those days,” he says. “It took a huge effort for this town to recover. A huge effort.” They had to recover from the oppression, but also from the poverty and isolation that marked Franco’s reign, he adds. Spain welcomed immigrants during the boom years that briefly made Villacañas rich. And even though fortunes have changed, no one here seems to blame outsiders.

Elena Justo, who’s also waiting outside the food bank, says she doesn’t care if someone’s Roma, Romanian, Ecuadorean or Peruvian. “We are all human beings in a bad situation,” she says. “These are not times to start discriminating.” But there’s another reason the far-right is having trouble rallying against non-Spaniards, says Mayor Garcia. “Most of our immigrants came from the east, from Romania,” he says. “We also had people from all over Latin America. Then the crisis hit and they just left.” Today, Garcia says, immigrants might make up about one percent of the town and are well-integrated. At a door factory that’s still open, called San Rafael, general director Miguel Angel Cepeda tells me they have just one foreigner on staff, from Argentina. Out of 241 employees. Business, Cepeda explains, is on the upswing, but not enough to lure foreign labor back — especially with so many locals still unemployed. Some locals, out of desperation, have returned to what they did before doors: farming. But with a twist.

In a small warehouse on the outskirts of the village, Angeles Pontes loads her organically grown lentils into a packaging machine. The lentils are bound for Germany. “Some 120 farmers are getting support to expand and diversify into crops like this,” she says, “and to embrace sustainable practices, like creating wetlands on parts of their land.” The underwriter? The European Union. The EU has also pumped nearly $1 million into worker retraining here, churning out plumbers, electricians, forklift drivers — all of which makes the EU very popular in Villacañas. “I’m sure that Spain is still thrilled to be in EU,” says Benita Prous, sitting at a downtown café. “Even if they set all the rules, it could be that being a member boosts our self-esteem a bit.” Self-esteem, and savings accounts. For populists preaching against the EU and immigration, this is hardly fertile ground.
© Public Radio International


German Neo-Nazi group jailed for terror attack plans against refugees

A court on Wednesday sentenced members of a neo-Nazi group to up to five years in prison for forming a "terror organisation" that planned to attack a home for asylum seekers.

15/3/2017- The four - three men and a 24-year-old woman identified as Denise Vanessa G. - were arrested in May 2015, two days before they planned to strike at the migrant shelter in the eastern state of Saxony. Known as the "Old School Society", their choice of weapon was modified "pyrotechnic explosives, particularly in the form of fire and nail bombs", which they were planning to hurl into a refugee home, the prosecutor had said. The group had therefore "accepted that people could be killed," chief prosecutor Jörn Hauschild had told the court. The ringleader Andreas H., 58, was sentenced to four and a half years in prison while his second-in-command Marcus W., 41, got five years. The group's "spokesman" Olaf G., 31, was given three years while the only woman obtained three years and 10 months. The sentences were however more lenient than the four and a half to seven years sought by the prosecutor.

The four met on the internet in 2014. In preparation for the attacks, they bought large quantities of banned fireworks from the Czech Republic and subsequently decided to cover the explosives with a layer of nails to make them more lethal. Hauschild described their plan for the Saxony attack as very concrete, adding that the authorities had learned the details from chat logs and phone intercepts. Media websites show group emblems popular in the neo-Nazi scene, such as bloody hatchets and skulls with the slogan: "One bullet is not enough." Amateur videos posted on YouTube and attributed to the group also use racist and xenophobic slurs in appeals for new recruits.

A record influx of asylum seekers to Germany has fuelled a sharp rise in the number of far-right attacks, with Saxony state gaining special notoriety for such violence. In 2016, there were about 3,500 attacks against refugees and asylum seekers in Germany - ten each day, on average - injuring 560 people including 43 children, interior ministry data show. Saxony, with just five percent of the German population, was the scene of 437 attacks last year, according to the RAA, a victims' assistance organisation, after 477 in 2015. Another extremist group in Freital, Saxony is currently on trial for five different attacks targeting refugee homes and left-leaning politicians. The seven men and one woman face charges of starting a terror cell, attempted murder, causing grievous bodily harm, causing explosions and property damage.
© The Local - Germany


Germany plans to fine social media sites over hate speech

14/3/2017- Germany plans a new law calling for social networks like Facebook (FB.O) to remove slanderous or threatening online postings quickly or face fines of up to 50 million euros ($53 mln). "This (draft law) sets out binding standards for the way operators of social networks deal with complaints and obliges them to delete criminal content," Justice Minister Heiko Maas said in a statement announcing the planned legislation on Tuesday. Failure to comply could see a social media company fined up to 50 million euros, and the company's chief representative in Germany fined up to 5 million euros. Germany already has some of the world's toughest hate speech laws covering defamation, slander, public incitement to commit crimes and threats of violence, backed up by prison sentences for Holocaust denial or inciting hatred against minorities. It now aims to update these rules for the social media age.

The issue has taken on more urgency amid concern about the spread of fake news and racist content on social media, which often targets more than 1 million migrants who arrived in Germany in the last two years, as well as members of the Jewish community. The Central Council of Jews in Germany welcomed the new law. "We do not want an internet police or thought control," the council's president, Josef Schuster, said. "But when hatred is stoked, and the legal norms in our democracy threaten to lose their relevance, then we need to intervene." In late 2015, Germany pressed Facebook, Twitter (TWTR.N) and Google's (GOOGL.O) YouTube to sign up to a code of conduct, which included a pledge to delete hate speech from their websites within 24 hours. The draft rules would turn the code of conduct into legal obligations to delete or remove illegal content, to report regularly on the volume of filed complaints and they also demand that sites make it easier for users to complain about offensive content.

Rush To Respond
A survey by the justice ministry's youth protection agency, released on Tuesday, found that YouTube was able to remove around 90 percent of illegal postings within a week, while Facebook deleted or blocked just 39 percent of content deemed criminal under the law and Twitter only 1 percent. Social networks have raced to improve technology and user feedback on their sites to detect and remove abusive content. "The draft law has only just been announced and we are analyzing the details now," a YouTube spokesman said in a statement. "We will continue to improve our systems to ensure that illegal hate speech is dealt with quickly." Twitter declined to comment on the proposed law. It has responded in recent months with automated tools to identify profiles engaging in abusive behavior, new filtering options to screen out anonymous profiles or to block offensive content, and by responding directly to user complaints.

Facebook was not immediately available to comment on the draft law, elements of which had been signaled previously. In January, Facebook announced a partnership with German third-party fact-checking organization Correctiv, promising to update its social media platforms in Germany "within weeks" to reduce the dissemination of fake news. Maas and other members of Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling coalition have called for social networks to be held to higher content standards demanded of media broadcasters instead of hands-off rules applied to telecom operators. Among Germany's political establishment, there is concern that fake news and racist content on social media could influence public opinion in this year's election campaign. The government, however, would have to move very quickly if it wants to get the law passed before campaigning for the September election begins.
© Reuters


Germany: Thousands demonstrate in Saarbrücken against NPD extremists

Thousands of people have joined peaceful protests against the convention of the far-right NPD party in the western German city of Saarbrücken. The party had almost been banned earlier in the year for its extremist views.

12/3/2017- The anti-NPD (National Democratic Party) rallies drew support from local residents and representatives from churches, unions, interest groups and other parties. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the premier of the small federal state of Saarland, of which Saarbrücken is the capital, was among those protesting against the NPD convention. She told reporters that she was there to oppose right-wing extremism, racism and anti-Semitism. Earlier in the day, a number of demonstrators attempted to block NPD politicians from accessing the party conference, resulting in a delay for attendees of the convention.

'Hostile' towards the constitution
Considered the most extremist among far-right parties, the NPD was almost banned at the beginning of the year. The highest constitutional court stopped just short of an all-out ban while still remarking that the party and its activities were hostile towards the German constitution. The party convention was expected to deal with the ramifications of this assessment, and evaluate what strategy the small party wants to adopt moving forward. The NPD has attracted many neo-Nazis in the past, as the far-right continues to harbor violent individuals; however, its more moderate adherents might defect to the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party when general elections take place in September. The AfD is currently trending above 10 percent.
© The Deutsche Welle*


Malta: Escaped migrant was kicked as he resisted re-arrest, witness recalls

14/3/2017- Gordon Pickard, a former soldier who was charged with the murder of an escaped detainee, has this morning appeared in court testifying against two other soldiers who are facing the same charges over an incident which occurred in 2012. The 37-year-old Lance Bombardier from Zabbar was called to testify before magistrate Consuelo Scerri Herrera in the case against Sergeant Mark Anthony Dimech and Gunner Clive Cuschieri. The case revolves round the investigation into the death of escaped Malian migrant, 32-year-old Mamadou Kamara. Mr Kamara had died in the back of a detention service van after being repeatedly kicked in the groin. Forensic expert Mario Scerri had established that the Malian had died as a result of the blunt trauma he sustained, which in turn triggered a vasovagal attack.

Back in November 2015, the Court of Criminal Appeal presided by Judge Edwina Grima, overturned Mr Pickard's conviction for suppressing evidence, holding that he had been convicted of the wrong offence. Taking to the witness stand this morning, Mr Pickard said that at the time of the murder, he was stationed at Hal Safi detention centre and had been in charge of the 12 man shift on duty at the time of Mr Kamara's death. He explained that the staff included detention officers and members of AFM. He told the court that Sergeant Mark Anthony Dimech was the lance bombardier in charge of that shift. Asked to explain what actions would be taken against inmates who caused trouble, he said that usually, troublemakers would be put in isolation, a small cell with iron bars. He said this would be used both for medical isolations and misbehaviour cases.

It would be the person in charge who takes the decision to put someone in isolation, in this case, Mr Dimech. It appears that on the day of the alleged murder, Kamara was causing trouble and the other inmates would not want him close to them. He told the court that on that day, his shift started at around 6:20pm at block B. Mr Casha had given him a hand over and told him they were taking care of an immigrant who was mentally unstable. He was told the migrant was "crazy, taking people's things and at one point even asked for a joint." Questioned by Inspector Keith Arnaud, the man said he did not inform Sgt. Dimech of the trouble which erupted as he wanted to investigate the case himself. He informed Mr Dimech of the matter at around 8:30pm. The witness recalled how Mr Kamara had asked to be taken to the polyclinic. Pickard, Dimech and Cuschieri had driven the man to a polyclinic. The detainee was placed in a cage in the back of the van.

When asked to describe the man's behaviour, Mr Pickard said that the Malian was misbehaving. After 45 minutes the doctors certified him as healthy but made an appointment for a psychiatrist to see him the next day. When they returned him to B Block, a commotion broke out because the other immigrants didn't want him back. They said, the witness explained, they were scared that he was going to hurt them. Mr Pickard said that it was Mr Dimech's decision to have the man locked up in the isolation room. "I opened the gate to let him out while another immigrant was talking to Mr Dimech. At this point I had the gate keys in my hand. Then, Mr Kamara suddenly ran off." The witness said he chased the detainee for around 200 metres but Mr Kamara had then jumped over the fence. The officers had gone out in a detention centre van to try and recapture the escaped migrant.

Mr Pickard joined the search team some ten minutes later using his personal car. On his way back, he saw Mr Kamara climbing a wall in a side street. He stopped to tell him to halt. Mr Kamara said something which the witness did not understand and he leapt over the wall. At this point, he told Mr Dimech to go around because he was going to go over the next wall. The search carried on until he saw gunner Cuschieri kick the man twice in the abdomen and head. "I told him to slow down while Kamara had been lashing out at the officers with his arms and legs", he explained. The migrant was eventually placed in an armlock as they had no handcuffs available at the time. "Kamara struggled as he was being placed in the van. Dimech held his legs while I held one of his arms. Cuschieri closed the cage. Sgt. Dimech and I put him in the back of the van. When we sat him down in the van he attacked us again."

The witness then called the detention centre to ensure handcuffs were ready at the gate. When they arrived at Safi detention centre, Dimech had cuffed Kamara's feet whilst the other soldiers cuffed his hands. They drove to Paola polyclinic after that. Mr Dimech went to see a doctor as he had bruises to treat. Mr Pickard, in the meantime, went to get a wheelchair. He got back to the van some time later and saw that the immigrant lay unresponsive. "With experience we know that sometimes immigrants don't answer and wait for us to open the door to escape. I called the doctor down and when he arrived he said the migrant's dead." The witness said that Clive Cuschieri kicked the immigrant as he was trying to get up, he said. Defence lawyer Stephen Tonna Lowell objected to the prosecution making reference to a statement made by Cuschieri in the absence of a lawyer.

But inspector Arnoud said he had released the statement after consulting with a lawyer. "I had released a second statement after being reminded about something which I left out of the first statement", said Pickard. Asked to clarify what it was that he had been reminded about, he said that it was about Cuschieri kicking the immigrant. He insisted that he had forgotten to mention it the first time. Lawyer Joe Giglio then led the cross-examination and asked about Dimech's decision to put Kamara in isolation. "10 years of experience had taught us what to do in these circumstances. We didn't have time to consult our superiors. Mr Dimech came down to try and calm the situation down as the immigrants were all shaking the bars and banging on them aggressively." "If we hadn't placed him in isolation, I don't know what would have happened," the witness insisted. The lawyer then asked about the escape. Mr Pickard explained that the victim had ignored orders to stop. When specifically asked about the kicking, he said it was all very confusing. The case continues in April.
© The Malta Independent


Hungary: Hunger strike in migrant detention centre

13/3/2017- Nearly 100 migrants began a hunger strike on Monday at a detention centre in Hungary, demanding that they be allowed to leave, the country's immigration authority said. The Immigration and Citizenship Bureau said 94 of the 102 migrants in the Bekescsaba camp on the Romanian border were taking part. "Most of the hunger strikers are under Dublin proceedings as they unlawfully left the country of first entry into the European Union," the bureau told Reuters in an emailed statement. "The hunger strikers signalled their demands in writing, primarily complaining about being detained and asked to be allowed to leave," it said. "They complained about being fingerprinted as they have no intention to stay in Hungary."

An online plea for help by "Zanyar Faraj", claiming to be a spokesperson for the migrants in Bekescsaba, called for better conditions there. It said many inmates were sick and depressed. "Our lawyers went on a human rights monitoring mission to the Bekescsaba detention camp a month ago," said Marta Pardavi, co-chair of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, an asylum rights group. "Most (migrants) come from circumstances that makes it likely they suffer from psychological trauma. As far as we know the situation in the camp is calm for now." Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been a vocal opponent of the wave of migration into Europe, which he says threatens the socioeconomic makeup of the continent, and his government is building fences to keep migrants out.
© Reuters


UK: Yorkshire Post wins ruling after complaint by English Democrat leader

17/3/2017- The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), has backed the Yorkshire Post, following a complaint by English Democrat chairman, Robin Tilbrook. Tilbrook claimed that the paper had breached Clause 1 (accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in a report about the Batley and Spen by-election. In the article, the journalist stated that the vote was “made all the more fraught by the involvement of far-right groups”, continuing “the English Democrats and the National Front are both fielding candidates”. The party’s chairman said that the article created the “inaccurate impression that the English Democracts were a ‘far-right’ political party.” He said that they had membership “originating from across the political spectrum”, all of whom were “converts to moderate, reasonable and patriotic English nationalism.”

The paper argued that a line-break in the print article, meant that the party hadn’t been directly labelled as a far-right organisation and that their inclusion in the article was in the context of the wider reporting of wider tensions in the local community. It also provided example of how the activities of the English Democrats and “individuals closely associated with it” had demonstrated that the party could “reasonably be defined as ‘far-right’.” While IPSO didn’t accept the line break argument, it did rule in favour of the newspaper because:

“… the newspaper had provided sufficient examples, of activities and speech associated with the English Democrats in support of its characterisation of the party as ‘far-right’. Given this, and in light of the context in which the reference to the English Democrats was made, the Committee did not consider that the reference to the party was significantly misleading. There was no breach of Clause 1.”
© Prolific North


UK: The reality for asylum seekers in Glasgow

Hate crime, hunger and sexual exploitation

16/3/2017- The desperate plight of destitute asylum seekers in Glasgow has been told to MSPs. Race and religious hate crimes, homelessness, hunger and risk of sexual exploitation is the reality described for men and women refused the right to remain and left with no access to public funds. The Equalities and Human Rights Committee at Holyrood has heard from the group Scottish Faith Action on Refugees, who gathered evidence from people providing support for asylum seekers in Glasgow. The MSPs were told that people are dependent on the shelters and on foodbanks but even then much of what they are given cannot be cooked because they are homeless. While there is a night shelter for men there is no equivalent facility for single women leaving them reliant on the charity of friends or often strangers to offer them shelter.

A volunteer at the Glasgow night shelter for destitute asylum seekers, told of the help offered to men in the city. The volunteer said: “We have the overnight use of a tv/dining room, a kitchen, washing facilities and a large hall where the men sleep on good quality mattresses with plenty of bedding. “We would very much like to offer the same provision for destitute women but we have had enormous difficulty finding premises which will accept women. We will not give up in our search.” The charity said many of the asylum seekers spend the day in trying to find refuge at warm places like public libraries around the city. It said: “This can make libraries places for racist and xenophobic hate crime.”

Lynnda Wardle, Director of Interfaith Glasgow, said: “For those who are destitute. Most will not have access to cooking facilities to cook their own meals and to cook food that they like to eat.” She said for women there is less support and they are a great risk of exploitation. She said: “Single women are really at risk in this enforced destitution cycle. At the moment there is no official shelter for women. “Positive Action in Housing can help with temporary short term accommodation and there are two flats for women that can be used for destitute asylum seeking women but these can only accommodate four women.”
© The Evening Times


UK: Banned Neo-Nazi group to 'relaunch' as National Socialist Network

British far-right group proscribed by the government under terrorism laws to rebrand itself

13/3/2017- Neo-Nazi group National Action, who became the first British far-right group to be banned by the government under new terrorism laws, is set to relaunch under a new name, according to reports. The group, described as a "racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic organisation" by Home Secretary Amber Rudd, are planning an imminent rebranding under new name the National Socialist Network, reports the Hope Not Hate charity. The new group is being set up by Ben Raymond, a former leading member of National Action who hopes to create a "nationalist revolution". A website for the group has reportedly already been registered in Panama.

The move to recreate a new group away from National Action follows on from the government making it will be illegal for anyone to recruit for it, be a member of, or in any way support National Action, including displaying National Action flags, posters or banners. The group previously garnered attention in 2015 after staging a series of "White Man Marches" in UK cities and for praising the murder of Labour MP Jop Cox by white Nationalist Thomas Mair Speaking to IBTimes UK following the government ban in December 2016, Raymond described his plan to recreate a new group as National Action as a brand is "not a hill any of us are willing to die on". He added: "If you are asking if the ban will prevent our former supporters from continuing political activity then obviously not ... People who were in National Action knew what it meant to face heavy adversity."

Matthew Collins, Research Director at Hope Not Hate, said: "We have always been concerned that those behind National Action posed a very real danger when it came to influencing young people. Ben Raymond, we believe, helped push people to the very edges of terrorism before pulling himself back and allowing others to be trapped by their stupidity. "We have also long held concern about the sexualised nature of the group and its attitude towards things like the use of rape as punishment. A look into the 'interests' of Raymond has done little to dissuade us of that."
© The International Business Times - UK


Ireland: Populism is flowing into Irish mainstream (comment)

From water charges to public service pay policy, our largest parties are shifting ground in the name of expediency, writes Colm McCarthy

The mainstream European media have been venting about the rise of a new populism, concerned that far-right anti-EU parties will do well in elections in the Netherlands this week, in France in April and May, and later on in Italy. But they are downplaying an important political truth: populism is as old as the hills, nothing new anywhere in Europe, Ireland included.

12/3/2017- Comparisons of Marine Le Pen, Donald Trump and the UK Independence Party to the fascist movements of the inter-war period are overblown. There have long been populist parties, and populist tendencies in the mainstream parties. France's Front National made its first electoral breakthrough as far back as 1987. Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party first propelled him to the prime minister's office in 1994 while in the Netherlands, where the Freedom Party is polling well ahead of Wednesday's election, its precursor first polled strongly in 2002. The Austrian Freedom Party attained participation in government two years earlier. The economic downturn since 2008 has fuelled the rise of right-populism in Europe but did not summon it into existence.

Populism in its current manifestation in these countries has an anti-immigrant tinge and increasingly an anti-EU dimension too. The distinguishing feature in economic policy is, and has always been, a short time-horizon and simple solutions to complex problems (build a wall, take back control, keep out imports). In Italy, there is a real prospect of a right-populist majority whenever the election is held - it cannot be later than May 2018. Parties opposed to Italian membership of the eurozone, the European Union, or both, have been receiving the support of around half the electorate in recent opinion polls. But the greatest significance of the populist drift is in the impact on the policy positions of mainstream parties. Even where the insurgent parties fail to win power, they already exercise profound influence on those parties already in government.

This has been most dramatically illustrated in Britain, where today's Tory party has embraced a narrow English nationalism beyond anything contemplated by Margaret Thatcher. The price of marginalising the UK Independence Party has been the adoption of its policies, including the hardest form of Brexit and an anti-immigrant stance. The Republican Party in the United States is now overtly protectionist for the first time since the 1930s. In Germany, the threat from the new right-wing Alternative für Deutschland party has provoked a rightward shift in Angela Merkel's centrist coalition, which faces national elections in September. Something similar has happened in the Netherlands and elsewhere. A degree of capitulation appears to be the preferred strategy of the European centrist parties in the face of the populist onslaught.

Since no significant voices in Irish politics favour anti-Europe policies, or have taken an anti- immigrant stance, the populist advance seems to have passed Ireland by. The diminished popularity of mainstream parties at recent elections has seen voters turn to new groupings on the left, or to non-party independents. Despite the severity of the economic downturn from 2008 to 2012, there has been no new Irish right-populist party. But there is more to populism than a dislike for immigrants or the EU. Since this country's exit from the Troika bail-out programme at the end of 2013, there has been a markedly populist shift in the economic policy positions of all mainstream Irish political parties.

This is best illustrated by the water charges debacle. No serious person believes that water supply and wastewater disposal is anything other than a natural monopoly utility, to be organised along the same lines as electricity or gas and paid for by users. Ireland is the only EU country to have declined to organise some form of user charging for residential water supply. But the three largest parties in Dail Eireann, Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein, have now completed, with varying speed and elegance, a full 180-degree pirouette on the issue. All three were at one stage in favour of residential charging. Sinn Fein was first to reverse engines, followed by Fianna Fail, and Fine Gael now appears to have embraced the indefinite deferral of a proper charging scheme. The Greens and Labour seem to be sticking to their earlier support for charges but that will make no difference to the outcome. There will be no scheme of charging sufficient to fund even half the costs of the system for many years, or until the EU enforces compliance with its rules.

Irish Water must now be utterly demoralised: its funding model has been undermined and nobody seems to know how its capital programme is to be financed. The Exchequer will presumably have to fund the cost from general taxation, along with whatever fines may be imposed from Brussels for non-compliance with the Water Framework Directive. Decisions in principle to extend charges to urban residential users were first taken in the early 1990s, a quarter of a century ago. This has been one long and shambolic exercise in capitulation to political expediency. A more recent example has been the unwillingness of all parties to face down the challenges to public service pay policy, initially through the mishandling of the Garda pay dispute. The concessions made to gardai have undermined the Lansdowne Road Agreement and threaten the control of public spending in the years ahead.

Since the minority Government assumed office last year, there has been a complete disappearance from political discourse of any concern about the continuing additions to state debt. The recent regime of very low borrowing costs for government is likely to come to an end during 2017. The European Central Bank has been purchasing government debt on a large scale in the secondary market, driving down debt service costs. This has been particularly beneficial to the heavily-indebted countries, which can re-borrow maturing debt at low cost. This ECB policy cannot last forever, interest rates for government have already risen and further rises are inevitable, as the chief executive of the National Treasury Management Agency pointed out to a Leinster House committee last week.

The level of outstanding state debt is about 2.8 times the Government's annual revenue. This is one of the highest ratios in Europe, lower than Greece but similar to Italy. A comfortable ratio would be about half the current figure and it will take a decade of decent economic growth and a period of budget surpluses to achieve the necessary reduction. But the political class appears to have concluded that Ireland's public finance crisis is over, and that future budgets will feature tax reductions and expenditure giveaways. If Brexit goes poorly from an Irish perspective, and the interest costs on re-borrowing continue to rise, the need for fiscal restraint could become urgent very quickly.

Without benefit of an actual populist party, the Irish political leadership, in Government and Opposition, has reverted rapidly to type, and has slipped back into a distinctly populist style of thinking about economic policy. The external threats from Brexit and from corporate tax changes are substantial and there is little an Irish government can do to avert them. But the damage can be contained by ensuring sustainable public finances, ideally without a return visit from the Troika.
© The Irish Independent


Italy: Anti-far right clashes in Naples trigger political storm

Italy's government vowed on Sunday to defend far-right Northern League leader Matteo Salvini's right to free speech after violent clashes marred his first rally in Naples, proud capital of the country's poor south.

12/3/2017- "Something very significant happened yesterday which we have to reflect on," Interior Minister Marco Minniti said after the violence between masked protesters and riot police erupted on the margins of an otherwise peaceful demonstration in the sprawling port city on Saturday. "In a democracy it is fundamental that everyone has the right to speak and it is even more fundamental for those whose views are furthest away from our own," Minniti said. Minniti's intervention came amid a row over whether Naples's leftist mayor, Luigi de Magistris, had encouraged activists bent on preventing Salvini speaking. Saturday's violence came after a handful of demonstrators broke away from a protest march. They began hurling stones, flares, smoke bombs and Molotov cocktails at the police, who replied with baton-and-shield charges and tear gas. The confrontation continued for over an hour, during which cars and rubbish carts were vandaliZed or overturned. Police made three arrests and were looking for three other people reported to have been involved.

Mayor 'should quit'
Salvini, an anti-immigration, anti-euro populist who attracts protests whenever he ventures out of his base in Italy's wealthy north, accused de Magistris of trying to censor him and threatened to file a legal complaint for defamation. In the run-up to Saturday's clashes, the independent left-winger had branded Salvini a fascist xenophobe with contempt for southern Italy. He also tried to use his mayoral powers to deny the far-right leader a venue for his first rally in Naples. He was overruled by the local prefect, acting on the orders of the interior ministry. "De Magistris should resign instead of accusing me of being a Nazi-fascist," Salvini said on Sunday. "Nothing like this has ever been seen in Naples and the worst thing about it is the mayor's support for it." De Magistris's handling of Salvini's visit also came under fire from the media, constitutional experts and former premier Matteo Renzi. "Handing Salvini the stamp of being the defender of free speech and the right of political leaders to voice their opinions was, frankly, an unthinkable short-circuit," Francesco Casavola, a former president of Italy's Constitutional Court, told La Repubblica. Renzi accused the Naples mayor of flirting with the violent fringe of left wing politics.

Black Bloc and Ultras
De Magistris, who had voiced support for the anti-Salvini protesters earlier in the week, rejected the charges as "lies". "I have never supported violence but I do stand with the people of this city who have been betrayed by powers who have blood on their hands." He refused to retract his attacks on Salvini. "We didn't try to stop him speaking but we did not want him in any city building because his politics are offensive to this city, racist ad xenophobic."



In Dutch Vote, First Of 3 Key European Elections, Populism Takes Second Place

16/3/2017- Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte dealt a sharp defeat to right-wing nationalist Geert Wilders in what was seen as the first of three electoral tests of populism on the European continent this year. Rutte's center-right VVD party took 33 out of 150 seats in the lower house of the Dutch parliament. Wilders' Party for Freedom got 20 seats and came in second. The left-leaning Dutch Labor Party, took a major hit, losing 29 seats. The Green Left Party gained 10. A new coalition government will be formed, but most Dutch political parties have said they won't work with the Party for Freedom. Wilders had hoped to notch a third big populist victory in the West since the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union last summer and Donald Trump won last November in the U.S. Wilders ran on an anti-immigrant, anti-Islam platform, which included vows to close all mosques and ban the Quran. He had led in the polls for nearly two years before slipping in the last week or so before the election.

"The Netherlands, after Brexit, after the American elections, said 'whoa!' to the wrong kind of populism," Rutte said Wednesday. Still, Wilders' party picked up five additional seats in parliament — and the man known for his bleached-blonde pompadour vowed he would not go away. "It's not the 30 seats I hoped for, but we have gained seats," Wilders said. "This patriotic spring will happen." Even as he voted Wednesday, he warned, "The genie will not go back into the bottle." Many Dutch who voted for parties other than Wilders' exhaled when they awoke to the news of his defeat this morning. Waiting for a bus in The Hague, Tamara Venema said she was happy to see Rutte come out on top and the Netherlands not follow the path of the U.K. and the U.S. "I'm very glad that happened, because I was afraid Wilders would win and — after Trump and after Brexit — we were going to be the next polarized country," she said.

In the end, Wilders' policies and rhetoric – he had called Moroccans "scum" and suggested the Netherlands deport some – proved too extreme for voters in a small country that was built on foreign trade and immigration and has been traditionally viewed as liberal and tolerant. Wilders' second-place finish also played well in European capitals. Wilders had repeatedly said he wanted to pull the Netherlands out of the EU. French President Francois Hollande called Rutte's win a "clear victory against extremism." The next electoral battle focusing on populism will take place in France, where Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front, is running for president. The first round of voting is set for next month.


European leaders breathe sigh of relief over Dutch election results

Co-opting of far-right sentiments, combined with an aggressive police dispersal of a protest by Turkish-Dutch, could have buoyed the centrist candidate. But European leaders are very relieved Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte won reelection.

16/3/2017- Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte won reelection by a wide margin on Wednesday, defeating anti-Islam and Euroskeptic candidate Geert Wilders in a vote that was seen across Europe as a crucial test of democratic liberalism. With turnout at 80.8 percent, the highest in a decade, Mr. Rutte’s center-right VVD Party captured 33 of the 150 parliamentary seats – down from 41 in 2012 – while Mr. Wilders’ Freedom Party (PVV) took 20 seats and centrist Christian Democrats and D66 parties won 19 each, giving shape to what will likely become the governing coalition. Wilders said that while he had fallen short of the victory predicted by many polls for weeks leading up to the election, his was “not a party that has lost.” “We gained seats. That’s a result to be proud of,” he said, according to Reuters.

The results triggered an outpouring of relief and congratulations from European leaders, many of whom echoed Rutte’s declaration of an “evening in which the Netherlands, after Brexit, after the American elections, said 'stop' to the wrong kind of populism.” European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker called the outcome “an inspiration.” German chancellor Angela Merkel said it was “a good day for democracy.” And leaders from Sweden, Norway, Estonia, and Lithuania also offered congratulations. But others may see plenty of reason for sobriety, as the election run-up saw Rutte and other mainstream politicians take what some saw as a worrisome turn, as The Christian Science Monitor’s Sara Miller Llana reported this week:

[N]ow the mainstream politicians have been criticized for adopting an “us versus them” sentiment to pander to far-right voters. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte penned in a national newspaper in January: “People who refuse to adapt, criticize our customs, and reject our values. Who harass gays, yell at women in short skirts, or call regular Dutch people racists. I completely understand that people would think: ‘If you reject our country so fundamentally, I’d prefer you’d leave.’ Because I feel the same way. Act normally, or get out.”

Cas Mudde, a Dutch expert on far-right populism at the University of Georgia, says this language and media coverage of it keep Islamophobia a central issue, even though polling shows Dutch Islamophobia is average for Europe. He sees a mismatch between Wilders’s rhetoric and public attitudes. And almost no politicians offer an alternative narrative today, he says, “or actually point out that overall the multicultural society works pretty well, that the vast, vast majority of Muslims are integrated.” Others raised questions about whether the outcome should be read as a signal of Europe’s direction.

Mabel Berezin, professor of sociology at Cornell University, told Reuters that Wilders, who has served in parliament for two decades, “does not represent a populist wave.” “Rather, he is part of the political landscape and how his party fares does not tell us much about European populism,” she told the news agency. “The real bellwether election will be Marine Le Pen's quest for the French presidency, starting April 23 – that is where the populist action is and that is what we should be focusing upon.” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavužošlu, who was blocked from entering the Netherlands last week in what quickly turned into a fierce war of words with Dutch authorities, issued dark predictions about the results. “There is no difference between the social democrat [party] and the fascist [Geert] Wilders. They are of the same mentality,” he said, according to the Associated Press. The Islamophobia of European parties, he added, was taking the continent “toward an abyss.”
© The Christian Science Monitor


Exit poll: Dutch anti-Muslim leader fails to capture top spot in elections

15/3/2017- The Dutch political establishment appeared Wednesday to fend off a challenge from anti-Muslim firebrand Geert Wilders, according to initial exit polls, potentially blunting the momentum of anti-establishment politicians across Europe. The result, if confirmed by the actual election results, meant that Wilders would remain a powerful voice on immigration issues in the Netherlands. But it would leave in place Prime Minister Mark Rutte and do little to alter the fundamental dynamic in a country unhappy with the status quo but deeply divided among many political parties.  Wilders faded after topping opinion polls for most of the past 18 months, as Dutch voters appeared not to fully embrace an election message that described some Moroccans as “scum” and called for banning the Koran and shuttering mosques.

His muted showing was likely to comfort pro-European Union leaders in France and Germany who face political insurgencies after years of economic stagnation and strain from a refugee influx. Italy may also hold elections this year with similar dynamics. But Wilders still gained seats, reconfirming his role as a sharp thorn in the side of the nation’s more centrist leaders. “Rutte is far away from rid of me!!” Wilders wrote on Twitter shortly after the initial exit polls were released. He appeared to acknowledge that he had not bested his rival. Taken together, the initial results appeared to show a nation that agreed that it disliked the status quo — but not about an alternative direction. The ruling center-right Party for Freedom and Democracy remained the largest party in the exit poll, but it was on track to lose nearly a quarter of its seats in parliament, forcing Rutte to broaden his coalition across the political spectrum. His coalition partner, the center-left Labour Party, may be wiped out as a political force, plummeting in initial forecasts from 38 seats to nine out of a total of 150.

Even as Wilders confronted limits to his ballot-box appeal, his agenda-setting power remained evident after many mainstream politicians tacked rightward during the campaign to advocate for stricter limits on immigrants. His Party for Freedom was forecast to build slightly on its current 15 seats in the lower house of parliament, tying it with the centrist Democrats 66 party, and the center-right Christian Democratic Appeal. The center-left Green-Left party also appeared to do well, potentially quadrupling its seats. The likely formation of a broad, weak coalition across the political spectrum could give extra ammunition to Wilders even if he is shut out from power. Rutte has repeatedly said he would not work with the peroxide-haired firebrand. Rutte also significantly toughened his stance on immigrants during the campaign in a bid to capture Wilders’s supporters, telling immigrants in January to “act normal or go away.”

But the Wilders’s showing will still probably slow the momentum of French anti-immigrant leader Marine Le Pen, who, if she captures her nation’s presidency in May, would try to lead France out of the E.U., shattering the bloc in the process. German leaders also face a challenge as the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party stands to capture seats in parliament. The initial results were greeted with relief outside Dutch borders. “Large majority of Dutch voters have rejected anti European populists. That's good news,” the German Foreign Ministry posted on its official Twitter account. The tone of the Dutch campaign dispirited some citizens who want a welcoming attitude toward refugees and immigrants.

“They’re not making the point what they want to do. They’re just saying what they’re against,” said Arieke Maljaars, 32, a teacher at an elementary school in the heavily immigrant Schilderswijk area of The Hague, where Turkish kebab stands are close to Surinamese grocery stores. She said she planned to vote for the small, centrist Christian Union party. She said some of her 8- and 9-year-old students, most of whom are immigrants or their children, “were really scared.” “One of them said, ‘Maybe I’ll have to go to Turkey, and I really don’t want to go there.’ For children in the neighborhood, it can feel frightening,” Maljaars said. In a final debate Tuesday night, Wilders attacked his opponents for allowing in too many immigrants. “Every day we’re confronted with the mess of this,” Wilders told deputy prime minister Lodewijk Asscher of the center-left Labour Party. “This is your scum. I hope you’ll learn lessons, because to what has your policy led?”

The campaign has upended old notions about Dutch tolerance and inclusiveness, and the influx of immigrants starting in 2015 has created the perception of new strains on society. There was a net increase of 56,000 people in 2015, and 88,000 in 2016, many of them Syrian, according to the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics. About 10 percent of the Netherlands’ 17 million people are non-Western immigrants or their children. The refu­gee crisis has helped fuel the Dutch debate. The push-and-pull comes at the same time as Trump’s triumph in the United States, the British rejection of immigrants after the decision to leave the E.U. and the fiery immigration-focused election campaigns in France and Germany. Many Wilders supporters said Wednesday that they resented that refugees who came to their country were provided housing and health care even as Dutch people struggled to make ends meet.

“I understand they don’t have anything, but I have to pay for all that,” said Bep van Beele, 66, who lives in the working-class Duindorp area of The Hague, a bastion of Wilders’s support. “It creates jealousy. There’s not much left for the Dutchman.” Polling stations closed at 9 p.m. local time, 4 p.m. Eastern, with initial exit polls released immediately. Full results are expected early Thursday local time.
© The Washington Post


General election 2017: high turnout across the country

15/3/2017- By 3pm, turnout in the Dutch general election was well above that of the 2012 vote, and in some polling stations, extra booths were being added to cope with demand. In Amsterdam, almost 26% of those eligible to vote had cast their ballots by 1pm, almost double the 2012 total. There is a similar picture across the country, with long queues at popular destinations, such as the top of the Adam tower on the IJ waterway and on an uninhabited island on the Markermeer lake, which included a 3.5 hour boat trip. People wishing to vote in the parliamentary complex in The Hague had to queue up in front of a long line of foreign journalists who are in town to cover the results. In Amsterdam, city officials have intervened at a mosque in the east of the city where Turkish flags and nationalist posters were on the walls even though it is being used as a polling station, the Telegraaf said. Political statements are not allowed in polling stations.

Exit poll
The Netherlands is electing 150 members for the lower house of parliament and a new government. The polling stations close at 9pm and an early exit poll will be published shortly afterwards but it will not be until around 11pm that a clear idea about the result is likely. The vote is being seen as a test of whether Europe really will swing to the right, in the wake of the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s election as US president and ahead of key elections in Germany and France. Even if Geert Wilders does not win, and the polls show this is unlikely to be the case, his impact on the debate in terms of immigration and identity cannot be ignored, the New York Times wrote.
© The Dutch News


Dutch go to polls in test of far-right strength

Millions of Dutch voters go to the polls Wednesday in key elections overshadowed by a blazing diplomatic row with Turkey, with all eyes on the fate of far-right MP Geert Wilders.

15/3/2017- Following last year's shock Brexit vote and Donald Trump's victory in the US presidential polls, the Dutch general elections are being seen as a litmus test of the strength of far-right and populist parties ahead of other polls in Europe this year. Amid the tussle between outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his anti-Islam, anti-immigration rival Wilders, many of the 12.9 million eligible voters remained undecided on the eve of the ballot. Most polling stations opened Wednesday at 0630 GMT, and are to close at 2000 GMT with exit polls expected shortly after. "When people look for leadership, they look to me," Rutte told a final debate late Tuesday. The leader of the Liberal VVD party, he is bidding for a third term as premier of the country of 17 million people -- one of the largest economies in the eurozone and a founding father of the European Union.

Wilders slipping
Final polls released late Tuesday appeared to show Rutte pulling away from Wilders, crediting the VVD with coming top with 24 to 28 seats. Wilders was seen as slipping yet again and barely clinging on to second place with between 19 and 22 MPs. That would however still be well up on the 12 MPs his Freedom Party (PVV) has in the outgoing parliament. Seeking to mark his differences with the fiery, Twitter-loving Wilders, Rutte has been highlighting the country's economic growth and stability during his six years at the helm. Complicating the political landscape, Turkey has gatecrashed the scene with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erodgan unleashing a string of invective at the Dutch for barring his ministers from addressing a pro-Ankara rally in Rotterdam. Rutte's firm handling of the crisis -- barring one Turkish minister from flying into the country, and expelling another -- appears to have boosted his image here.

Snapping at the heels of Wilders were long-standing Dutch parties such as the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), credited with 19 to 21 seats, and the Democracy Party (D66) with around 17 to 19 MPs, the polls said. Both the CDA and D66 would be natural coalition partners for Rutte, who like most Dutch parties, has refused to work with Wilders, turned off by his incendiary rhetoric. Wilders has pledged to close the borders to Muslim immigrants, shut mosques and ban sales of the Koran. He also wants to pull the country out of the EU in a so-called Nexit. While Wilders's radical views have won support on the back of Europe's refugee crisis, many Dutch still find them unpalatable. "He has the right to voice his opinion, but he doesn't give any solution to anything. He just creates fear," said 26-year-old Niels, who was watching the debate in a bar in The Hague. And if the PVV does becomes one of the largest parties in parliament, Wilders may be hard to ignore.

Angry tweets
The Dutch pride themselves on their consensus politics, and reportedly it takes an average of three months of hard-bargaining to cobble together a coalition. Observers predict this time round however, four or even five parties may be needed to reach the 76-seat majority. The leader of the Labour Party, Rutte's coalition partner in the outgoing government, hit out at Wilders in some of the fiercest exchanges of Tuesday night. "You've been a member of parliament for 20 years. You've sent thousands of angry tweets, but you have provided zero solutions. You weaken and divide The Netherlands," said Labour leader Lodewijk Asscher. While traditional Labour has fallen sharply this year in the polls, the left-wing GroenLinks and its charismatic young leader Jesse Klaver are enjoying a huge boost. The 30-year-old Klaver said it was "time for a new leadership" and called for The Netherlands to welcome more refugees. He has boosted his party in the polls, and may win 16 to 18 seats, which could place him in a powerful kingmaker role.
© France 24.


Dutch Mainstream Parties Shun Coalition With Far-right

14/3/2017- Mainstream Dutch political parties continue to rule out a possible coalition with the Freedom Party of far-right leader Geert Wilders, despite the fact his party is predicted to come in second in Wednesday’s elections. During a debate between current Prime Minister Mark Rutte and far right leader Wilders, Rutte repeated once again that he “will not work together” with the Wilders’ Freedom Party. He added that even asking Wilders to support a possible minority coalition, as happened between 2010 and 2012, will not be an option. The prime ministers’ party is not the only political party stating publicly that it will never form a coalition with the far right leader. Wilders labeled the pre-election exclusion as “undemocratic” but also said he doesn’t believe the prime minister will shun him in the end.

Some Wilders’ supporters, interviewed at a campaign event say it is unfair that other political parties will not even agree to preliminary discussions. Jurgen Faber, a truck driver who supports the far-right leader, says it’s not fair to voters. “I don’t think Dutch voters will let themselves be sidelined.” Coalitions of two or three parties are needed to govern in the Netherlands as no party has ever won an outright majority. The current ruling cabinet is made up of the conservatives, liberals and the Social Democrats. 28 parties are fielding candidates in the upcoming elections. Due to the fragmented electorate and the exclusion of Wilders’ party, a new ruling coalition could possibly involve four or more political parties.

Parallels in Belgium
Parties in neighboring Belgium have ruled out coalitions with far-right parties ahead of elections since the late eighties. The so-called "Cordon Sanitaire" was introduced after nationalist party Flemish Interests, previously known as the Flemish Bloc, won big. A resolution signed by the remaining political parties read that “no political agreements or arrangements” would be made with the far-right movement which “fails to acknowledge human rights and the principles of democracy.” Herwig Reynaert, a Belgian political science professor at the University of Ghent, says a cordon sanitaire is not undemocratic because the remaining parties forming a coalition do have a democratic majority. “Still, this is not always clear to the voter. That is why it’s important that political parties and political leaders clearly explain why they don’t want to work together with a certain party.”

One of the reasons Dutch Prime Minister Rutte gave for excluding Wilders during the Monday evening debate, was that he felt Wilders had “radicalized” on some issues. Wilders has called for the closing all mosques and for banning the Quran. Reynaert says the Belgian cordon sanitaire has succeeded in excluding a far-right party, but not in excluding its ideas. “The political agenda of Flemish Interests led to themes such as security and immigrants being more prominently discussed by other political parties. So in a way, those who are excluded can still influence the ones in power.” In Belgium, many issues discussed by Flemish Interests termed too far-right years ago, are now included by other political parties. One of them, the New Flemish Alliance, is even a member of the current Belgian ruling coalition.

Situation in France
In France, the far-right party Front Nationale is expected to win the first round in presidential elections this spring. In the final round of a vote in 2002, a nationwide effort to block Front Nationale was among the factors enabling incumbent president Jacques Chirac to get reelected. This year, Front Nationale is again expected to make it to the final round but many of its priority issues are also adopted by other French politicians. In the Netherlands, the prime minister's party has also been blamed for trying to attract Wilders supporters by using more right-wing rhetoric. A full-page ad by Rutte in several newspapers during the campaign urged people “to act normal or leave” the Netherlands. Last year, Rutte also called for Turkish-Dutch demonstrators to “get lost,” a statement he refused to renounce. Many believed these statements were made to appeal to voters supporting the Freedom Party.

The only political party that has not ruled out teaming up with Wilders’ is 50Plus, a party focused on pensioners and seniors. 50Plus leader Henk Krol, expected to win 10 seats, wrote in an opinion piece that Freedom Party voters shouldn’t be excluded beforehand, because “everyone will understand what impression that will leave and how the Freedom Party can grow stronger from this.” But the two are unlikely to find common ground on the issue of allowing Muslim refugees into the country.
© VoA News.


New Dutch party seeks to root out racism

The Dutch have long had a reputation for being tolerant, open and laid-back. But the leader of the country's newest political party Sylvana Simons believes if you scratch the surface, you'll expose deep-seated racism.

14/3/2017- After being bombarded with death threats and hate mail for calling out a TV show guest for a racist remark, the well-known former TV presenter decided the country needed a new kind of political tone and message -- one of inclusiveness and equality. In a little over three months since its launch in December she has garnered enough support to field 20 candidates in Wednesday's elections with her new party -- Artikel 1. It's named after the first article of the Dutch constitution which states "that all persons in The Netherlands shall be treated equally" and that there shall be no discrimination based on race, religion, and sexual orientation. "We feel the first article of our constitution is under pressure. It's in danger and it needs to be defended and rightfully executed," Simons told AFP. Leaving behind a two-decade successful TV and radio career was a tough decision, she acknowledged, particularly to enter the harsh, unforgiving battleground of politics.

 "I just couldn't deny any longer that we have structural and institutional problems with inequality regarding male-female issues, black and white issues, immigration issues. I just couldn't let it go any more," she said. But she was still surprised by the intensity of the backlash once she started questioning some of the country's most cherished traditions -- such as a Christmas blackface character. For the Dutch, Black Pete is just a jolly person who accompanies Saint Nicolas to hand out sweets to the children. But foreigners are often surprised to see dozens of Black Petes, men and women, walking the streets in early December, faces blacked up, bright red lips, black curly wigs and garish, gaudy clothing. And the image is everywhere, from special chocolates to cakes, and food labels. Artikel 1 wants to abolish Black Pete and establish July 1 as a day to mark the abolition of Dutch involvement with the slave trade. It also wants people not to have to state their gender when they register with the authorities.

- Image of lynching -
But Simons came under virulent attack on social media -- images of her face superimposed on that of a slave being lynched, or as the butt of a racist song. Prosecutors are now investigating whether to bring charges. The Netherlands has long been a multicultural society, welcoming people not just from former and current Dutch territories such as Indonesia, Suriname, Curacao and Aruba, but also refugees from Eritrea, Somalia as well as the Middle East. Some 3.6 million people out of a population of 17 million are counted officially as having at least one parent born outside The Netherlands. Among them just over two million are classified as non-Westerners -- primarily coming from Turkey, Morocco and Suriname. Amid Europe's worst refugee crisis since World War II, far-right anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party (PVV) have seen his popularity rise. He could now land as the second-largest party in parliament.

"I think we've come to realise that tolerance is not the same as acceptance. Tolerance just means that you don't really care, but OK, you tolerate. And I think that we've now reached a stage where it needs to be about acceptance, it needs to be about equality," said Simons. Polls suggest her fledgling party could win at least one seat in the new parliament. The youngest of the party's 20 candidates is just 18, the oldest is 82. The top three candidates on their party list are women, including Simons, and they also have a Muslim, a Jew, a Christian and an atheist among their ranks. Sixty percent of the candidates are also from the LGBT community. "We think emancipation starts with representation, so it was very important to us that our list reflected society," Simons said, adding "what brings us together is a different way of looking at people, looking at society." "For us one seat is a big, big win. The mere fact that we exist and we are uniting people, and mobilising people and activating people is already a big win."


Campaign trail: final opinion polls, CDA wants Maxima’s passport

14/3/2017- The Netherlands goes to the polls on Wednesday to elect 150 members for its lower house of parliament. Here’s a round up of news from the final day of campaigning.

End sprint
An opinion poll for I&O Research suggests the ruling VVD is sprinting away from the other parties and is now 11 seats ahead of Geert Wilders’ PVV. The poll suggests the VVD is on target to win 27 seats while the PVV would be in fifth place with just 16 seats, one more than the party won in 2012. The poll gives GroenLinks and D66 each 20 seats and the Christian Democrats 19. The polling company suggests the VVD has benefited from the diplomatic row between the Netherlands and Turkey, with considerable backing for prime minister Mark Rutte’s tough approach.

CDA wants queen’s second passport
Christian Democrat leader Sybrand Buma told a radio programme on Tuesday that queen Maxima should renounce her Argentine nationality. ‘If it was up to me, everyone would have just one passport,’ Buma said. ‘And that means the queen as well.’ Dual nationality makes it difficult for people to integrate into Dutch society, Buma said. ‘If you want Dutch nationality… you are making a considered choice. It is more than a piece of paper. It is a choice which joins you to a country.’

Denk ducks out
Denk campaign leader Tunahan Kuzu said on Tuesday afternoon he will not take part in the final television debate of the campaign after all. Kuzu said he had no wish to debate with Jan Roos, leader of right-wing party VNL, describing him as xenophobic and homophobic. ‘Jan Roos earlier came out with speculative news that Mark Rutte is gay and the way he has denigrated Tofik Dibi’s sexuality is the lowest of the low,’ Kuzu said. In addition, the way he stigmatises Muslims is contributing to growing xenophobia in the Netherlands, Kuzu said.
© The Dutch News


Dutch Election round-up

Krol takes to the skies, Asscher meets Turkish organisations, Denk criticised

13/3/2017- The leader of the pensioners’ party 50Plus, Henk Krol, has set off on a one-day helicopter tour of the country with less than 48 hours to go until the election. Krol set off from Lelystad airfield at 9.30am and is visiting 10 locations from Limburg to Friesland. At his first stop, the Amsterdam ArenA, he was handed a petition supporting his plan to bring the pension age back down to 65. Krol scaled down his campaign a week ago after a series of TV blunders over the cost of his pension policy saw his opinion poll ratings fall sharply, but the 50Plus leader recovered some ground with a spirited performance in the opening leaders’ TV debate a week ago.

Asscher attacks Nazi gestures in Amsterdam
Labour party leader and deputy prime minister Lodewijk Asscher has attacked demonstrators who gave Hitler salutes and used other Nazi references as they protested against the Dutch government’s handling of the diplomatic row with Turkey. Asscher met Turkish community leaders at his ministry to call for them to help ‘de-escalate’ the dispute, which has led to protests on the streets of Rotterdam and Amsterdam on successive nights. ‘Everyone round the table felt hurt by the suggestion that Nazi practices are happening here.’ Asscher told NOS he was shocked to see Nazi gestures and slogans on the capital’s Plein 40-45, whose name commemorates the wartime occupation by Germany. ‘If you do that there’s something wrong with you between the ears,’ he said. Muslim community leaders have accused Denk of using ‘aggressive campaigning methods’ to secure votes from the Muslim population.

Muslims ‘under pressure’ from Denk
The Council of Moroccan Mosques in the Netherlands said the party, founded by two former Labour MPs of Turkish origin, used emotional language and was polarising the debate by insisting that Muslims should vote for them because of their belief or ethnic origin. ‘You cross a line if, like Denk, you tell people they should vote for you or otherwise they’re traitors,’ said spokesman Saïd Bouharrou. Denk candidate Farid Azarkan dismissed the council’s criticisms as unfounded.
© The Dutch News


Stocks up as Dutch far-right party retreats in polls

13/3/2017- European equity markets were slightly higher on Monday as investors looked to the Dutch elections, while oil prices continued to fall. The benchmark Stoxx Europe 600 index was up 0.38% to 374.64, Germany’s DAX rose 0.22% to 11,990.03 and France’s CAC 40 was 0.13% firmer at 4,999.60. In currency markets, the euro was at 1.0662 against the dollar, off by 0.16% for the day, and down 0.71% versus the pound at 0.8715.

Investors were eyeing Wednesday’s election in the Netherlands, although polls showed far-right candidate Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party (PVV) losing ground and unlikely to be the next Dutch prime minister, and with rival parties vowing to not join a coalition with him, events at the weekend have raised some concern. Two Turkish ministers were barred from campaigning in the Netherlands for a referendum to boost Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s power, which analysts at Monex Europe said appeared to be another attempt by Erdogan to destabilise the European Union, as the Netherlands is now in a blackout period before voting starts. "Diplomatic tensions flared, with Erdogan claiming that the ban shows ‘Nazism is alive in the west’, comments which were met with criticism from both the Dutch Prime Minister and Germany’s foreign minister," Monex Europe said.

Chris Beauchamp, chief market analyst at IG said that the diplomatic spat between Turkey and the Netherlands gives the Freedom Party a new lease of life. "The complex nature of Dutch politics means that markets are not unduly concerned at present, but it will be a worrying signal ahead of the French first round next month." Elsewhere, European Council president and former Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has been summoned for questioning on Wednesday by Warsaw for a case concerning ex-secret service officials. Tusk was recently reappointed for a second term with Poland, the only country to vote against his extension. The pound rose following news that Scotland's first minister would table a section 30 order in Holyrood, which is a provision in the existing devolution legislation that allows for powers normally reserved to Westminster to be given to Scotland's parliament, as a first step on the path to a second referendum.

Meanwhile, oil prices traded lower after Baker Hughes reported on Friday that the number of US oil rigs rose by eight to 617, the highest since September 2015. Craig Erlam at Oanda said: "Of course, these changes take time to have an impact and non-OPEC compliance is still a little low but with an extension to the deal in doubt, prices are reverting back towards pre-deal levels, although I doubt we’ll get close to the lows any time soon." Brent crude was down 0.04% to $51.35 a barrel and West Texas Intermediate was 0.31% weaker at $48.34. In corporate news, Amec Foster Wheeler climbed 11.61% as it agreed the terms of an all-share offer from oilfield services company Wood Group that values the engineer at around £2.2bn. HSBC was up 0.81% after it hired ex-Prudential boss Mark Tucker to replace Douglas Flint as chairman after 22 years at the world's fourth largest bank.
© Digital Look


Geert Wilders loves Hungary and had coffee with Viktor Orbįn

12/3/2017- Will far-right populist “peroxide-blond crusader” Geert Wilders be the Netherlands’ new prime minister? And why does he spend so much time in Hungary? On March 15th the Netherlands will elect its new Parliament, the Tweede Kamer or Lower House. According to opinion polls the far-right Freedom party might come out ahead and Wilders has a good chance to become the next prime minister. Some call the 53-year-old Wilders the Dutch Donald Trump; their politics and even their hair colors are similar. “These elections are historic, because the Netherlands can choose on the 15th of March if we want to give our land away further or if we are going to recapture it,” Wilders said. The most likely scenario is, that the Freedom party will win the election by becoming the largest party in the Lower House, but still won’t be able to form a government. His opponents will try to patch together a multiparty coalition to prevent a far-right coup d’état.

“Dutch values are based on Christianity, on Judaism, on humanism. Islam and freedom are not compatible,” thunders Wilders. He is a Eurosceptic, hates Brussels bureaucrats and wants to close all mosques. He calls Islam an ideology that poses an existential threat to core European values and wants to ban the Quran, seal the nation’s borders and allow absolutely no immigrants from Islamic countries. His views are a shared by Mr. Orbán, Hungary’s authoritarian Prime Minister, although Wilders’s rhetoric is more poisonous. He recently called young Dutch immigrants from Morocco, “scum.”

Wilders was born in 1961 and after completing high school he moved to Israel. He worked in a bakery in Jerusalem, and later at kibbutz Yad Mordechai close to the town of Ashkelon and at agricultural Moshav Tomer north of Jericho. He openly calls himself a Zionist and travels frequently to the Jewish State. In the past he was investigated by the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service over his “ties to Israel and their possible influence on his loyalty.” Wilders also maintains close ties to Hungary. In 1992 he married a Hungarian woman, Krisztina Márfai, and together they spend summers at Lake Balaton and visit his wife’s village, Nyírparasznya, a small hamlet in Szabolcs-Szatmár county close to the Ukrainian border. Wilders feels safe there although his body guards are with him all the time. He does not take chances since Pim Fortuyn, another far right Dutch politician, was assassinated in 2002.

“I have one message to the Dutch people, and that is, if you want to regain your country, if you want to make the Netherlands for the people of the Netherlands, then you can only vote for one party.” This is almost verbatim the same message Hungarian voters hear from Viktor Orbán and I was not surprised when in a Facebook entry Wilders mentions his close relationship with Orbán; they even had coffee together.
© The Hungarian Free Press


Netherlands: Islam becomes lightning rod for Dutch fear and loathing

11/3/2017- By all international measures of happiness and prosperity, the Dutch should be a contented nation — but anger and anxiety are the dominant emotions as an election that could determine Europe’s future comes to a head. When Geert Wilders, the far-right leader who has set the tone of the campaign and led opinion polls, took to the streets of Breda, the rage and deep divisions were on open display. Last month Mr Wilders, the country’s most controversial politician, launched a one-page manifesto pledging to ban mosques, the Koran and Muslim immigration with a ranting speech denouncing “Moroccan scum who make the streets unsafe”. Among the crowds and police surrounding the bleach-blond populist on the campaign stop before the polls on Wednesday, was a first-time voter.

Furkan Erdogan, 18, a third generation Muslim of Turkish origin, came from Rotterdam to the city in the country’s south because he wanted to talk, debate and argue with supporters of Mr Wilders and his PVV Freedom Party. In the liberal Dutch tradition, the earnest student wanted to explain that Muslims, or descendants of immigrants like him, were not a “problem”. His idealistic mission did not go to plan. Within minutes of engaging a middle-aged former skinhead in heated but civilised debate, things got ugly. Another middle-aged PVV supporter with two thuggish men in tow loomed up bellowing and jabbing his finger: “You are the problem, you are a Muslim, a big problem. Islam is not welcome here,” he said. “This is Holland. Windmills, clogs, not mosques and Islam.”

Mr Erdogan burst into tears, rapidly gaining a protective cordon of teenage locals and the attentions of a Dutch TV crew. The PVV supporters, who have been instructed by party bosses not to talk to the press, beat a hasty retreat. Mr Erdogan, who has a white Dutch girlfriend and dresses like any other teenager, was bereft. “I try the best I can to be part of this country. I am proud to be Dutch,” he said. “I have been here for my whole life. My father has been here for his whole life. I am just trying to be a good citizen, to take part in my first election and people do not accept me.” Using the conventional metrics used to measure wealth and happiness, it is difficult to explain Dutch discontent and support for Mr Wilders. Opinion polling puts him in second place, two percentage points behind the government party five days before polls open.

Conventional wisdom has it that populist or far-right leaders only make the running amid economic downturn, high unemployment and the misery of 1930s-style social collapse, none of which applies to the Netherlands today. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s life satisfaction index, the Dutch score 7.3 per cent, well above the 6.5 per cent average for the world’s wealthiest economies and societies. Eighty-two per cent of the Dutch working-age population is in work, compared with 68 per cent in Germany, and incomes are 21 per cent higher than in Britain. The Dutch mood is not about economics but a broader and deeper discontent driven by a profound distrust in a political system that is seen by many as being run by a “cartel” of politicians.

This perception is fuelled by decades of coalition government in which parties have dropped manifesto promises in the name of compromise and consensus, resulting in the same economic and social policies whoever was elected. Multiculturalism is seen not as a product of the tradition of religious tolerance, following the wars of the counter-reformation, but as a licence to Muslims, who account for 6 per cent of the population, compared with 4.8 per cent in Britain, to live by different rules. Islam has become the lightning rod by which 35 per cent of the Dutch people define their fears and the feeling that the system does not work for them.

With his slogan to make “the Netherlands ours again”, Mr Wilders’ speeches revolve around “Henk and Ingrid”, an imaginary couple suffering at the hands of a corrupt elite and immigrants privileged above Dutch natives. Embodying the Muslim threat, he lives apart from society and has not left his safe house without armed police protection since his name was found on a Islamist terrorist cell’s death list in 2004. Watching Mr Wilders work the Breda crowd in the rain, posing with shopper for selfies, Jan, a builder fitting out a nearby restaurant dismissed him as a “crazy bigmouth” but admitted that many people he knew would vote for the PVV. “He says what people think but do not dare to say out loud,” he said.

Lizzie Vliegenthart, a Breda student, had come to see what all the fuss was about because some of her friends had expressed support for Mr Wilders. “They shout a lot but don’t really say anything of substance,” she said. “It’s not worked out or reasoned, it’s just rage.” Over lunch in Venlo, Mr Wilders’ hometown on the German border, a businessman who knew him as a young man said that many of his supporters felt “neglected” in a world that they no longer understood. “Until the end of the Cold War, people had secure identities via their churches or jobs that lasted for life at companies like Philips and strong sense of a Dutch national community,” he said. “There was a common enemy, the Soviet Union. That has all gone. There are no certainties. Dutch people are conformists and they want certainty, security. Geert has given them that. A common enemy, Islam.”
© The Times


Dutch Campaign trail: the Muslim vote, foreign media frenzy and the king

10/3/2017- Just five more days campaigning and the Netherlands will go to the polls to elect the members of its 150-seat second chamber. Here’s a round up of the latest campaign news.

Muslim call to vote
In total 62 Muslim organisations in the Netherlands, mainly mosques, have issued a joint statement urging their followers to use their vote in next week’s election. Imams are also reinforcing the message in Friday prayers. ‘Voting is something a Muslim cannot ignore,’ the statement said. By not voting, it could disadvantage their presence in the Netherlands and boost parties which want to ‘limit the rights and freedoms of specific Muslims and encourage racism and discrimination’.

Former prime minister defects
Former Christian Democrat prime minister Dries van Agt has turned his back on his former party because of its support for Israel’s illegal settlements. The CDA voted against a motion calling for the treaty of association with Israel to be suspended until Israel stops its building programme. ‘I can no longer embrance this half-baked blind-eye policy towards Israel’s occupation and colonisation,’ the former prime minister says.

Get out and vote
A group of five young Dutch creatives have put together a short film to encourage the four million under-30s in the Netherlands to vote. ‘Don’t fuck up’ features young British and US voters urging their Dutch counterparts to use their voting rights with a warning about what happened in Britain (Brexit) and the US (the election of Donald Trump as president).
© The Dutch News


The Netherlands election: in the words of Dutch voters

Residents across the country on immigration, globalisation and the political elites

9/3/2017- As part of our special series The Europopulists, the Financial Times collaborated with Algemeen Dagblad, the Netherlands’ biggest daily newspaper, to ask Dutch residents whether they have seen political attitudes change in their neighbourhoods. We received more than 200 submissions from residents of more than 100 towns across the country. A few trends emerged from the responses: many who wrote in had noticed a rise in populist sentiment or were shifting that way themselves. Some felt that the political landscape was too fragmented, with 28 parties on the ballot, many of which were single-issue.

A lot of respondents described themselves as “floating voters” who planned to decide how they will vote strategically, based on election-day polling. And though many respondents from rural areas expressed concern about immigrants and assimilation, the vast majority of those who had direct interactions with refugees described their experience in very positive terms. Here is a snapshot of the responses — those who took part requested varying levels of anonymity.

Frustration with politics

Carla has lived in Eindhoven, the country’s fifth-largest city, for her entire life. She has seen a clear shift in political preference over the past decade.
œ People are angry at the elite in The Hague. They do not feel heard. This will cause them to cast a protest vote for [anti-immigration candidate Geert] Wilders. I am voting for Wilders. Hopefully he will not be prime minister, but I definitely consider it an opportunity to put the elite in The Hague in its place. I have always been a steadfast [centre-right] VVD voter, but that’s over now because of the breach of promises by the VVD. Something has to change in The Hague. It is time that they listen to the population.

An administrator in Rotterdam expressed a similar view.
œ Unlike 20 years ago, I have lost all political preference. National politics has become an independent bubble and has nothing to do with the everyday life nor the furious Dutch society.

Entrepreneur Ronald Smallenburg, who lives in multicultural Amsterdam, has seen a growing trend of voters reacting against populist sentiment. Mr Smallenburg is a longtime member of the progressive pro-EU party D66.
œ I see a slowly growing countermovement from people who are increasingly annoyed by the populist right and want to do something to resist it: respond in the media, demonstrations, debates. I see this both in my city and across the country. Over the past few weeks, I have noticed that [Mr Wilders’ Party for Freedom] PVV is slowly falling in the polls and growing outrage about the PVV has increased. It may be that I exist in the Amsterdam bubble where I never encounter PVV voters. It is also possible that Brexit and [US President Donald] Trump have strengthened this development. More and more people are tired of the polarisation.

Effect of the media
Thijs, a caterer and computer repairman, lives in the small village of Koudekerke. Koudekerke sits in the Netherlands’ Bible Belt, a strip of land that runs diagonally across the country and is home to a predominantly conservative Calvinist population.

œ The church has a clear influence here and that is reflected in the voting. The small Christian parties have the upper hand, but the PVV has started to grow. Though hardly any Muslims live here, people see Islam as a threat. There is a fear that increased immigration will lessen the influence of their church and that scares them. I feel this change came about 10 years ago with the rise of social media. Suddenly, people were reading news reports about incidents elsewhere, when hitherto their news remained local. After the banking crisis, when homes’ values fell ​​significantly here and many jobs were lost in the nearby industrial town of Vlissingen-Oost, there was a clear shift to the right. There has been a crisis shelter here. For a few days, there were refugees from Syria. There has not been any nuisance and both the residents and the refugees have had a positive experience.

René Romer, a marketing adviser born and raised in Rotterdam, believes the media’s portrayal of diversity is increasing polarisation.
œ I was born in Rotterdam in 1959. Rotterdam was still a white city. Now Rotterdam is a city where the majority has its roots outside the Netherlands. These changes have gone so terribly fast that it inevitably brings tensions with it, but I see that these tensions are often whipped up enormously by the media. Last December, I accompanied a group of students from the hotel school in Maastricht. They were tasked with finding out how entrepreneurs in this city are responding to its multicultural society. They were stunned. In the media these students heard mostly negativity about multiculturalism, but in the two days they spent in Rotterdam, they saw the convenience, flexibility and naturalness with which shops, restaurants and other businesses operate, and how they also profit from this superdiversity. It gave them a totally different perspective. What is very clear is that politics and media as a whole are not mirroring the multicultural society which people of Rotterdam experience daily. Politics and media are whiter than white. The gap between the Dutch media and the Dutchman is massive.

Economic changes
Retired physiotherapist Jeanette lives in Molenwaard, a rural town in South Holland also in the Bible Belt, and believes the economic dislocation caused by globalisation and the eurozone crisis has sparked support for nationalism and populism.
œ This has always been a conservative Christian environment, but I have seen my neighbourhood swing right. It is more nationalistic, about putting our own people first. Many [orthodox Calvinist] SGP voters also welcome Trump’s ideas. Because there have been so many job cuts in large regional steel and shipbuilding companies people are looking at which political party will do something for them. They also feel the threat of terrorism and think that the government is doing too little to tackle it. These things have led to a certain feeling that they have to take matters into their own hands.

Dirk Buningh is a ferryman from the tiny village of Velsen-Zuid, population 930. He also cites globalisation, which has brought foreign workers into the country to work in major industries, as a cause of political upheaval.
œ Tata Steel is one of the largest employers in this region. There have been people with non-Dutch backgrounds working here since the 1970s. Now that the number of employees are falling, the “original” inhabitants look at the others with suspicion and jealousy. I myself live on a ship. I am currently, despite the presence of gravity, a floating voter. I say vote with your mind, not your emotion. Otherwise you will need a psychologist after the elections to keep your emotions in check.

Concerns around immigration
A respondent working in healthcare describes Turkish protests, which became national news in the Netherlands in July, as having an affect on her political views. She lives in Zwijndrecht, a suburban area south of Rotterdam.
œ Ten years ago, I was more trusting — I thought the integration of Muslims would go well here. I did not begrudge anyone his or her existence in our beautiful country. But I now know that for many Muslims, this integration will not happen. As an example, there were big Turkish demonstrations in Rotterdam to protest the [attempted] coup in Turkey [in July]. Demonstrating Turks who have been living for years or were born here, I found frightening. They seem to feel absolutely no affinity with the Netherlands.

A Muslim postal worker living on the outskirts of Amsterdam in Nieuw-Vennep says she also notices a new tension between communities, saying she now feels less welcome.
œ At the last municipal and national elections, we saw great support for PVV. That means, bluntly, that several neighbours and other people who live in our street who kindly greet us vote for the party that wants to see us leave. I’m a white leftist elite, but I’m also Muslim. I worry about increasing polarisation. Will my kids, with tinted appearance and foreign names, have a fair chance? Can they live in the Netherlands, where they and I were born and raised? And if not, we only have Dutch nationality. Where should we go?

Bert Lock, a schoolteacher, lives in the town of Papendrecht, in South Holland. His school has had a more positive experience with migrants and refugees.
œ Papendrecht has always been a refugee village. In my school, the classrooms have about 20% foreign children from 20 nationalities. There is never one dominant minority group, but instead a bit of everything. They usually do not speak each other’s language and rely on Dutch. Refugee children are often very motivated. We are generally pleased with them. Last year, our town received about 50 refugee families [status holders]. The children are mostly from Syria, with a few from Eritrea. The parents are all good people, very motivated to take courses in Dutch themselves. Because Papendrecht has extensive experience with refugees, the arrival of these people has been almost noiseless.

Leni is a manager from Lage Zwaluwe, a small village in the southern Netherlands. It has a population of 4,209. She argues that the Dutch have forgotten just how good they have things.
œ In this town, nothing happens. Life moves on. One day, the police came to tell us that our neighbour’s outdoor chairs had been stolen. Now we have a WhatsApp group, where we inform each other when something happens. People act scared, though in reality we live in a safety bubble. With the rise of [assassinated populist leader] Pim Fortuyn, people have become aware of potential fear. I do not know who said this, but it is applicable to the Netherlands: fear is like rabbits. It nests and starts multiplying. When it rains, we keep our feet dry, the infrastructure is good, everybody has healthcare. The biggest issue during election time is a question of our identity. This is pure luxury.
© The Financial Times*


Dutch prime minister: Voters must stop Trump-style ‘chaos’ from coming

10/3/2017- When Dutch voters go to the polls Wednesday, far-right leader Geert Wilders is hoping they will deliver the West its third major populist jolt in less than a year — and the first since Donald Trump won the U.S. presidency in November. But there are growing indications that Trump may be more hindrance than help to Wilders’s campaign. After leading the polls for nearly all of last year and seeming to be in commanding position as 2017 got underway, Wilders’s Freedom Party has fallen sharply in the past two months — a period that coincides with the tumultuous dawn of the Trump presidency. In surveys conducted in recent days, the Freedom Party has even fallen out of first place, slipping just behind the center-right party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

In the hyper-fragmented world of Dutch politics — there will be 28 parties on the ballot Wednesday — analysts emphasize that the campaign remains fluid, and Wilders could still wind up on top. Wilders’s own backers say they believe fervently that the polls are underestimating his support, just as they did with Trump in the United States. But increasingly, his competitors are using unfavorable comparisons to the U.S. president to attack Wilders and to try to halt the populist wave that began with Britain’s vote last June to exit the European Union. “This is our chance to stop this trend,” Rutte said in a brief interview as he recently campaigned at an Amsterdam shopping mall. “There’s still a big risk that [Wilders] will be the biggest party. But we’ve seen the chaos after Brexit and after the elections in America. And we can’t have that here.”

Trump is deeply unpopular in the Netherlands, as he is across Western Europe. And although Wilders’s hardcore supporters are unlikely to be deterred by the comparisons to Trump, they may be effective among those who want to shake up the system — but not quite in the seemingly disordered way Trump has during his first weeks in office. “Trump is the biggest antidote to Wilders,” said Geert Tomlow, a former Freedom Party candidate who still agrees with much of the party’s agenda. “People are aware that a Wilders type of person won’t give them the change they’re looking for.” The drop in the polls for Wilders is just the latest evidence that a Trump backlash in Europe may be helping the political establishment fight back against the spread of nationalistic far-right movements across the continent. In Germany — where parliamentary elections are due in September — the long-beleaguered center-left Social Democrats saw a pronounced poll bump after leader Martin Schulz went on the attack against Trump.

In France — with a presidential vote just around the corner this spring — centrist Emmanuel Macron has been gaining on the far-right’s Marine Le Pen in measures of first-round support. Trump and Wilders have much in common. Both delight in bashing the political establishment, and seek to mobilize voters with nativist, anti-immigrant appeals. Both also relish doling out bombast in 140-character bites. “Wilders took a cue from the U.S. elections as to how Donald Trump has done this. The whole point is to denounce people, the media, the establishment,” said Sijbren de Jong, an analyst at The Hague Center for Strategic Studies. “It’s politics on the basis of emotion. It’s completely devoid of content.” Early in the campaign, Rutte seemed intent on stealing some of Wilders’s emotional thunder by mimicking his message. In an open letter, Rutte called on people in the Netherlands to “act normal or go away.”

The letter appeared aimed at immigrants who fail to integrate, referring to people who are “attacking our habits and rejecting our values, who attack gay people, who shout at women in short skirts, or call ordinary Dutch people racist.” But in the recent interview, Rutte said the letter was targeted more broadly at anyone who fails to “act normal,” including those who take extreme positions that demonize immigrants and refugees. Joost Sneller, a candidate for the centrist D66 party, said it was up to Wilders’s opponents not to try to co-opt his message — but to convince voters that there’s a better way. As a small country, he said, the Netherlands has only succeeded when it’s engaged with the world with commerce, art and ideas. “It’s open society versus closed society,” he said. “We’ve been strong by being open.” That message, Sneller said, is getting out. His party has been gaining in the polls as Wilders and his allies decline, and has edged into a virtual tie for third place. “What we hear on the doorstep is ‘We can’t have Trump-like things happen here,’” Sneller said. “It’s time to stand up.”
© The Washington Post.


Court rules against Dutch expats with missing ballot papers

9/3/2017- Judges in The Hague have rejected a plea from a number of Dutch expats to be given more time to submit their votes in the general election. By law, ballot papers which have been sent abroad must be returned by March 15, the date of the national vote. But around 1,000 of the 78,000 Dutch expats who registered to vote had not received their papers with a week to go. Eelco Keij, a D66 parliamentary hopeful who has been campaigning on behalf of Dutch expats, says the state has been negligent in not sending voting papers out six weeks prior to the vote. ‘A serious number of Dutch voters abroad are being robbed of their voting rights,’ he said. The court will publish its full reasoning later.
© The Dutch News


Dutch 'Trudeau' Aims To Stem Far-Right Election Hopes

8/3/2017- Some call him the "Justin Trudeau" of Dutch politics, others see an echo of a young John F Kennedy, while his detractors call him arrogant. But GroenLinks (Green-Left) party leader Jesse Klaver is on a mission to put his own stamp on the Dutch political landscape in the March 15 polls as an antidote to rising right-wing xenophobia. As the only child of an absentee father of Moroccan descent and a Dutch-Indonesian mother, Klaver, 30, knows what growing up in The Netherlands as an outsider is like. "I was shocked to be told on Twitter to go back to my own country, or told 'I will not vote for you because you are Moroccan'," Klaver said during a debate late Sunday. "So many people have faced these kinds of comments. We should be judged based on what our future represents, not on the basis of our origins." While far-right politician Geert Wilders campaigns on an anti-immigrant, anti-Islam platform including calling some Moroccans here "scum", Klaver is sending a message of tolerance. Since taking over as party leader in May 2015, he has boosted his party's fortunes. Polls predict it may leap from six MPs in the outgoing parliament to possibly 18. Although unlikely, some even give the bright-eyed Klaver an outside shot at becoming the next Dutch prime minister depending on how coalition talks go.

'Immigrant country'
The country's youngest-ever party leader, Klaver was raised mainly by his grandparents in social housing, in a sprawling flatlands suburb of the southern city of Roosendaal. Unlike "what certain politicians will lead you to believe, The Netherlands is an immigrant country," Klaver told AFP in a recent interview. "I am a product of that immigration," added the curly-haired, olive-skinned Klaver. His campaign mainly focuses on stopping what Klaver calls "the right-wing wind that's blowing through all of Europe". And the Dutch vote is being seen as a key litmus test of the rise of populist and far-right parties ahead of other national elections in Europe this year. Klaver first rose to prominence in 2009 when at just 23 he was elected the youngest-ever member of the influential Social and Economical Council of The Netherlands, which advises government and parliament on key policy.

Six years later, he was elected unopposed as the leader of GroenLinks, which had been haemorrhaging voters since a disastrous 2012 campaign. With Prime Minister Mark Rutte's Liberal VVD party only slightly ahead of Wilders's Freedom Party in the polls, the young Klaver could emerge in a "kingmaker" role. He has already called for closer cooperation between leftwing parties like Labour, the progressive D66 and the Socialist Party, seeking to form a powerful bloc against any potential government led by Rutte's Liberals, who will need a majority coalition to reign in the 150-seat house.

Often compared to Canada's liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to whom Klaver bears a striking resemblance, he calls John F. Kennedy his biggest inspiration. Even his full name, "Jesse Feras Klaver" echoes the initials of the famous US president, assassinated in Dallas in 1963. Kennedy "was a man who said you should stand by your norms and principles," said Klaver, who has several pictures of a youthful Kennedy on his office walls alongside those of his own wife and two young sons. But some of his critics are not impressed by his youthful assertiveness -- Labour Party leader Lodewijk Asscher has called him a "touch arrogant."

Klaver subscribes to many of the ideas of celebrated French economist Thomas Piketty -- the author of an unlikely bestseller on capitalism -- including that globalisation has created an unequal society and an unequal concentration of wealth. "We need to make Europe work for everybody, not just for a small group of rich people who have been lucky and are just getting richer," Klaver said. He is reminded every morning of his mission as he clasps his coffee mug, engraved with JFK's words: "One person can make a difference, and everyone should try."


Geert Wilders’s Far-Right Dutch Party Sees Drop in U.S. Money

8/3/2017- As concern grows that Dutch politics is being influenced by American money, a new campaign disclosure report released in the Netherlands on Wednesday provided a twist: The spigot of American cash seems to have been mostly shut off. The report, coming a week ahead of contentious national elections and amid a Dutch experiment with campaign finance disclosure, showed that the burst of money donated in 2015 to the far-right leader Geert Wilders has dropped sharply. Yet in Europe, where disclosure laws are porous, loopholes in the Dutch laws still prevent a full picture of the scope and influence of foreign money.

The report showed that Mr. Wilders and his Party for Freedom, which has been running first or second in Dutch polls, received about $25,000 last year from the David Horowitz Freedom Center, run by David Horowitz, an American activist with strident views on Islam. In addition, a Buffalo-based company, listed in the new Dutch records as FOL Inc., appeared in the records as giving roughly $7,400 in November. The company could not be immediately identified in New York State records. That is still a sharp drop from 2015, when Mr. Horowitz’s center donated nearly $120,000 to the Party for Freedom, making it the largest individual donation that year in the Dutch political system, which is small and parochial compared with American politics.

Over all, the largest individual donor listed in Wednesday’s filing appeared to be Metterwoon Vastgoed, a real estate agency led by Chris Thunnessen, a businessman from The Hague. The firm gave about $158,000 this year to 50PLUS, a small party representing the interests of older voters. The firm gave nearly $106,000 last year to the same party. With political populism surging across Europe, the Party for Freedom has been a polarizing presence in Dutch politics, with inflammatory views of Islam, and the party’s financing has been largely mysterious. Political campaigns in the Netherlands are usually funded with public money or from party membership fees. But unlike other parties, the Party for Freedom has only one official member, Mr. Wilders, allowing it to avoid internal budget disclosures to a broader membership.

The Dutch have tightened their disclosure system in recent years, but gaps still leave it open to outside manipulation. Donations totaling less than 4,500 euros annually, about $4,750, do not have to be made public or reported to regulators. And foreign donations are also permitted, though legislation to ban such gifts has broad support in Parliament. The Party for Freedom listed only three donors in the latest filing, two of which were American. Few other foreign donations have surfaced in Dutch records in recent years. One exception was Chris Rufer, an American who founded a California-based company that produces tomato paste and other tomato products in bulk. He gave nearly $5,000 to the tiny Libertarian Party in 2015. According to federal records, he has been an active donor to libertarian candidates and groups in the United States.

Elections this year in the Netherlands, France and Germany are considered pivotal for the future of the eurozone and the European Union. Anxiety about outside influence has grown, usually centered on Russian hacking or disinformation efforts. Neither France nor Germany will disclose recent campaign contributions before elections. Mr. Wilders has continued to focus on arousing voter anger over issues involving Muslims. At a demonstration in front of the Turkish Embassy in The Hague on Wednesday, he criticized Turkey for trying to influence locals of Turkish descent to vote on a referendum granting more powers to the country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “The government has to make Turkish ministers persona non grata until after the referendum,” he said.
© The New York Times


This is Geert Wilders, the Dutch populist who could win but not rule

Will Brexit and Trump be followed by a Dutch populist upset and then victories for the radical-right in France and Germany? We’ll learn on March 15 whether Geert Wilders wins the general election in the Netherlands. But let’s focus on who he is. Dutch daily NRC explains this blonde firebrand in nine questions.

8/3/2017- ‘The blonde phenomenon from the Low Countries.’ ‘The far-right rabble-rouser who hijacked Dutch politics.’ ‘The anti-Islam crusader.’ ‘The man who invented Trumpism.’ ‘The reclusive provocateur.’ ‘The polder populist.’ Dutch politician Geert Wilders, the joint front-runner in the national polls, has been described in bombastic terms in the international media. All eyes are on the March 15 general elections, and not just for what they could mean for the Netherlands, the small country below sea level long known for its tolerant liberalism. The results will also say something about populism in Europe: will Brexit and Trump be followed by a Dutch populist upset and then victories for the radical -right in France and Germany later this year? But first, let’s focus on the man at the center of it all: Geert Wilders. Dutch daily NRC will try to answer who he is, how he operates and what his international role is, in nine questions. If you have others, please let us know at and we’ll try to answer more in the last week before the elections.

1. Who is Geert Wilders and how did he get involved in politics?
Geert Wilders (1963) was born in Venlo, a southern town on the German border. Venlo was an industrial transport hub where employment largely depended on the local printing and copying factory where Wilders’ father worked. His stay-at-home mom, who had been born in the then Dutch colony of Indonesia, took care of Geert and his two older sisters and brother. Not much is known about Wilders’ childhood. He was raised as a Roman Catholic, did not excel in school and has referred to himself as “a rebel” in young years. His brother Paul, who recently sought the limelight, said in a Der Spiegel interview that Wilders was “a horrible pest, egocentric and aggressive”. After high school Wilders completed his military service and spent time in a kibbutz in Israel.

He started working for the government and moved to the central city of Utrecht. Living and working in a multicultural city, he saw how people, often immigrants, benefited from the Dutch welfare system and thought it needed to be revised. He joined the right-wing liberal party VVD (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) in 1989 and started working for them as a parliamentary aide the next year. In 1998 he was elected to parliament himself. He has been there pretty much ever since. After the March election, only two people will have been in the Second Chamber, as the Dutch lower house of parliament is called, longer than he has.

2. Did he ‘radicalize’?
Wilders was always on the right of what was then the most substantial right-wing Dutch party, and conservative both in his socio-economic and his cultural thinking. He expressed concern about Muslim extremism before the 9/11 attacks. He saw the rise and death of Pim Fortuyn, a flamboyantly gay professor who emerged on the political scene with his own populist party early in 2002, only to be killed by an animal-rights activist days before the May election. After this incident, which upset Dutch politics, basically ended political correctness in the Netherlands, and invigorated anti-immigration and anti-Islam discord, Wilders and a fellow VVD-member Ayaan Hirsi Ali took center stage.

Wilders had hoped his party would give him a position in the administration. In 2002 he was passed over for the desired post of deputy minister of social affairs in favor of Mark Rutte, the current prime minister. When Rutte moved to education in 2004, Wilders failed to get the job again. A month later, he and a fellow MP wrote an internal 10-point memo insisting the VVD should swing to the right. One of their demands was that Turkey should never join the European Union and this caused the situation to escalate between Wilders and VVD parliamentary leader Jozias van Aartsen. On September 2 Wilders left the VVD but held on to his seat in parliament to try his political luck on his own.

He named his party PVV (Party For Freedom) a year later and ran a successful campaign against the European constitution that was subject to a referendum in the Netherlands. A year later he participated in the elections and won nine out of the 150 seats in parliament. Islam became his core target, both in parliament, in op-eds sent to national newspapers and infrequent television appearances. He went from thinking there were problems with radical Islam to proclaiming Islam itself to be a reprehensible, totalitarian ideology. He started comparing the Koran to Mein Kampf and said it should be banned. (Mein Kampf is banned in the Netherlands). He has called for a tax on women wearing a hijab, targets Moroccan youth, has called for deporting millions of Muslims from Europe and leaving both the euro and the EU. He also blamed ‘the elite’ in general and ‘the media’ specifically for many problems.

More than anything Wilders became a star at packaging his message. He has added words to the Dutch language such as ‘kopvoddentaks’ (head rag tax), ‘testosteronbommen’ (bombs of testosterone – referring to male immigrants coming into Europe) and ‘nepparlement’ (fake parliament). But there is often little content to his rhetoric. He gained international fame before the launch of what was supposed to be a controversial short film Fitna (2008), but it turned out to be little more than a compilation of known video excerpts, albeit insulting to many Muslims. His manifesto for the current elections fits on a single page and does not come with any (financial) details about how it would be put into practice. But he has really found his voice on Twitter.

3. How much power does actually he have?
Wilders’ main power comes from just being a strong anti-Islam, anti-immigration, anti-EU and anti-establishment voice and thereby dragging the whole Dutch political spectrum to the right. “Policy debates, political language, media attitudes, party landscape — all have been affected by Wilders’ politics”, NRC political columnist Tom-Jan Meeus wrote in a contribution to Politico Europe. The Netherlands doesn’t need to have Wilders in power for him to get – some of – his way. In this election other parties on the right, his old VVD and the Christian Democrats of the CDA, have adopted some of his demands and rhetoric. There is resistance even on the left to taking in an unlimited number of refugees and accepting Eastern Europe migrant workers.

Wilders did rule, sort of, between 2010 and 2012. The 2010 election presented him with his largest victory so far: 24 seats or one in six votes. He could not make a deal with the VVD and CDA to form an actual coalition, but they did agree on a Danish style minority cabinet with Wilders’ support. It was a law and order-focused government that struck a very different tone in Brussels and the rest of the world from its predecessors. But it didn’t last. Confronted with the effects of the financial crisis the government had to cut its budget and Wilders refused to agree with the measures needed, forcing new elections. The current government has been in office since 2012.

4. So what’s with the blonde hair?
There are some older photographs of Wilders where he had curly, dark hair, but he has been dying it blond at least since the mid-1990s. There has been speculation that he did so to deny his Indonesian roots, but whatever the reason it has been his main trademark long before anyone heard of Boris Johnson or thought Donald Trump would go into politics. He used to get his hair done in a barber shop near Utrecht Central Station but that is no longer possible because of security issues. His dark roots have been showing less and less in recent years, because Wilders has gone gray underneath the blond. 

5. What about that security?
Soon after Wilders split from the VVD in 2004, Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered on a busy street by a Muslim extremist. He was stabbed several times and the killer pinned a note to his chest with a knife saying Ayaan Hirsi Ali would be next. Wilders, who had been threatened before, was put under 24/7 surveillance and has been so ever since. He’s had to live in different safe houses, can only move around in an armored car, has probably not been inside a grocery store or attended a concert in over 12 years and hardly ever meets voters. Wilders has said that, given the situation, he and his wife Krisztina are better off without children.

Few details are known about his security. The government does not publish the costs, nor how many people are involved. Wilders recently tweeted a picture of himself surrounded by more than 20 guards. The only place where he can move around freely is the sealed-off corridor which is home to the PVV offices in parliament. He is guarded when walking to the parliament floor and the bathroom. The Dutch government is responsible for his security and does not want to take any risks with its most vocal politician who is on an Al Qaeda death list. However, last month NRC got word of a leak within Wilders’ security detail. A member involved with selecting places Wilders could visit was arrested for sharing information with others. It then emerged two others had been fired for fraud related charges. This caused Wilders to initially abandon his already minimal election campaign and stay inside. Now he is slipping in the polls, he has since planned a few campaign stops.

6. How does Wilders fit into the realm of international populism?
Wilders has often been compared to Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage and other celebrities on the radical right. They share similarities. Wilders and Le Pen even founded the populist group in European parliament: Europe of Nations and Freedom. Wilders is a leader and an example for many in the nativist world, but he is also different from all of them. First of all, Wilders does not lead a party. His PVV only has one member: Wilders himself. The other 12 PVV MPs have no say about the course of the party; there is no transparency or internal democracy. Wilders has said he learned from the party of the late Pim Fortuyn, which fell apart after his death due to internal bickering and issues with political fortune hunters. Wilders knows he is vulnerable and wants to carefully select anyone who can represent his party. He has so far only participated in national, European and provincial elections, but in only municipalities. The few people he surrounds himself with are basically gagged and any news coming out of the PVV is leaked anonymously.

But there are also issues he and other populists disagree on. Unlike Le Pen’s Front National or the Austrian FPÖ there is no history of anti-Semitism in Wilders’ politics. He is a staunch supporter of Israel and will even say so in front of a crowd unwilling to hear that message, as he did at a recent meeting of European populists in Koblenz. He is also very liberal on gay rights. He has copied Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ by taking ‘The Netherlands Ours Again’ as the motto for his current campaign. They also share a target audience of disillusioned white men. Like Trump and others, he has labeled the established media as ‘the enemy’. But unlike Trump he is not calling into or taking part in talk shows during his campaign and he does not hold mass rallies to fire up his supporters. He has cancelled most of the political debates he has been invited to. Wilders uses Twitter as his main source of communication but, unlike Trump, he does not shoot from the hip, but calculates every tweet.

Wilders is very concerned with his international reputation. He allows foreign journalists more interviews than Dutch reporters and he often travels to other western countries to give speeches on the dangers of Islam. He denies any connection with fascism or the extreme-right. Although he has predicted a revolt or revolution, Wilders has never called for violent action, so those labels do not fit him.

7. Wasn’t he convicted for hate speech?
Wilders has been prosecuted twice. In 2011 he was cleared of charges of group defamation, hate speech and incitement to discrimination. In 2016 he was in court again, this time for promising his supporters at an election event two years earlier that he would “take care” of reducing the Moroccan population in the Netherlands. This time he was found guilty under a Dutch law that protects groups from defamation, as well as for inciting discrimination. There was no punishment but he does now have a criminal record that could prevent him from visiting certain countries. Wilders’ appeal is still pending.

8. How does he pay for all this?
Political parties in the Netherlands get quite a lot of government subsidies but Wilders fails to qualify for most of them, because the PVV is not a member-based democratic party. He only gets money to support his parliamentary party, but these funds cannot be used for campaigning or to pay for his legal defense – although there has been evidence that he has done this. A Dutch law that came into effect in 2013 requires all political donations over 4,500 euros to be reported. His records for the past three years show only one major donor: The David Horowitz Freedom Center. This center, based in California, has given Wilders at least $175,000, but probably more. David Horowitz, who has been called “the godfather of the modern anti-Muslim movement”, has told NRC that he doesn’t care how Wilders spends his money. Because there is no transparency about the PVV’s spending, there is no saying how he pays for his legal defense, campaigning or other unknown activities. Wilders literally runs a poor campaign. He doesn’t have the money to pay for a venue for supporters to get together. He only campaigns online or on the street, where he relies on the security and crowd management paid for by the government.

9. So, will he rule the Netherlands after March 15?
This is very unlikely. The Dutch do not elect a president, they vote for a new 150-member parliament. No fewer than 28 parties are participating in the March 15 election and Wilders is now polling around 23 seats. This means between 80 and 85 percent of the Dutch do not plan to vote for him. The PVV could still become the largest party, which will allow it the initiative to form a coalition government. However, almost every other party has ruled out working with Wilders. They believe his ideas are too extreme and discriminatory, but also that he is unreliable, after he walked out of the budget negotiations back in 2012. Many believe Wilders doesn’t even want to govern. Why else would he do little campaigning, avoid debates and not have any sort of program to build policy on? Being a part of a coalition would force him to vet suitable people to be a part of the cabinet and most of all it would force him to do something he hates: compromise.

A longer version of this explainer was published in Dutch: Wie is Geert Wilders en wil hij wel regeren?
© The NRC


Netherlands: Refugees living in ‘floating hotel’ face rocky waters

Dozens of refugees who have been given temporary shelter in a former hospital ship in The Netherlands face uncertainty, as a wave of anti-immigrant far-right sentiments grows ahead of the country’s federal election

10/3/2017- Dozens of asylum seekers who have been given temporary shelter at a former hospital ship in a Dutch canal face uncertainty, as a far-right anti-immigrant wave sweeps the country ahead of its federal election. Polls have suggested that Dutch populist Geert Wilders, leader of the far-right Party for Freedom, is running neck-and-neck with Prime Minister Mark Rutte as the 15 March election closes in. Refugees who have been living on the canalside ship, called the “Amanpuri” are awaiting decisions on appeals made after the government rejected their asylum applications, according to Reuters. They have been offered shelter aboard the ship from the city of Groningen as part of a “Bed, Bath, Bread”  (BBB) program for asylum seekers.

Groningen opened the facility to 100 asylum seekers in January after Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s government cut off funding for the BBB program. It hopes to expand its capacity to provide shelter for as many as 300 people later this year, Reuters reports. Thousands of asylum seekers are living in similar makeshift BBB shelters, run by at least 30 Dutch cities and towns. Their futures have become increasingly uncertain, with the Rutte government enforcing some of the toughest immigration policies in the European Union since 2012. In January, Mr Rutte said he understands calls for people who ‘don’t integrate’ to leave The Netherlands. In a full-page message published in several newspapers, the Prime Minister said: “we have to actively defend our values” against those who refuse to integrate or act antisocially. “Behave normally or go away,” he said.
© The Independent


Headlines 10 March, 2017

Finland: Helsinki police on alert over planned neo-Nazi protest

Afghan and Iraqi asylum seekers have protested against the deportations of unsuccessful applicants for several weeks in central Helsinki.

10/3/2017- The threat posed by the far-right protest scheduled to take place in Helsinki on Saturday is being taken seriously, assures the Helsinki Police Department. “Police officers are, if necessary, prepared to break up the demonstrations in the event that they cause considerable danger to public order and security, to people or to property,” a police spokesperson said in a press release on Thursday. The protest is being orchestrated on social media with the objective of dismantling the protest camp of asylum seekers that was relocated from the front of Kiasma to Helsinki Railway Square in mid-February.

The organisers of the protest state in the event description that local authorities have until 10 March to dismantle the protest camp. Otherwise, they write, “we will arrive at the site on 11 March, 2017, and make our thoughts known to those who are in the country illegally”. Rumours on social media indicate that the participants will also include people from Estonia and Poland. One of the organisations advertising the so-called Puhdistus (Eng. purge, cleansing) protest is the Nordic Resistance Movement.

The Helsinki Police Department assures that it has taken the necessary precautions and is monitoring the preparations for the protest. Both police officers and security cameras, it reminds, are monitoring the area constantly. “We’re aware of the discussion on social media and we’re keeping tabs on how it develops. We’ll take action according to the threat assessment we’ll compile during the week,” Jari Taponen, the chief inspector in charge of preventive action at the police department, told Helsingin Sanomat on Wednesday. The social media debate has picked up in the past couple of days after an asylum seeker attempted to hang himself from a tree at Helsinki Railway Square on Wednesday. The suicide attempt was prevented by bystanders, and the man was taken to a hospital for treatment.

The Helsinki Police Department also reminds that it cannot intervene in the long-running protest by asylum seekers or the counter-protest by Suomi Ensin (Eng. Finland first) in central Helsinki unless the protests are deemed to pose a threat threat to public order or security, traffic safety, people or the environment, or if it is asked to do so by the City of Helsinki. “The City of Helsinki has not asked the police to intervene in the situation, but discussions between the city and police are ongoing,” it says. “The grounds for breaking up an assembly or demonstration must be particularly strong.”
© The Helsinki Times.


Croatia: Far-Right Role in Domestic Abuse Law Alarms Feminists

The inclusion of conservative groups with no known experience in the issue of domestic violence in the working group for Croatia’s ratification of Council of Europe Convention on preventing domestic violence has angered activists.

10/3/2017- Women’s right activists expressed dissatisfaction with the Croatian government's decision to include right-wing activists in the working group for drafting the law on the Croatia’s ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women. The Demography, Family, Youth and Social Policy Ministry has now published the composition of the working group for drafting the law – which is expected this year – which includes different experts in the field. However, it also includes a member of the ultra-conservative "In the Name of the Family" NGO, Ivan Munjin, as well as Ivan Prskalo, from the civic initiative Ordo Iuris.

Sanja Sarnavka, a veteran human rights expert with over 20 year's work on violence towards women, another member of the group, told BIRN that the two organisations had “never dealt with the issue of victims of violence to the best of my knowledge. “When you look at their CVs, they are also quite young. Munjin started only in 2016 to deal with volunteers for his NGO, while Prskalo is a lawyer, but not human rights one, but working in some sort of a corporation,” she noted. She said she was even more surprised that they were named to the working group without a public tender. Sarnavka said that she was even more shocked that someone from an informal NGO like Ordo Iuris, with no visible expertise in the field, had been included. She said it was unacceptable for individuals and organisations that oppose signing the Istanbul Convention to work on drafting the law for the ratification of the Convention.

Munjin, on the news site – connected to In the Name of the Family – wrote an opinion text in February in which he said the Convention would result in “a new sort of violence” towards women and victims of violence “by imposing gender ideology” on them. His NGO played a role in triggering the referendum in 2o13, which effectively ended the possibility of introducing gay marriage in Croatia. Ordo Iuris's branch in Poland opposes the Convention, due to its definitions of gender, while the position of its informal branch in Croatia is unknown. But the conservative group was one of those that called on leftist Croatian theatre director Oliver Frljic to be banned from entering Poland, because his play, "The Curse", criticised the Catholic Church and late Pope John Paul II.

Prskalo was also a speaker at a panel that criticised gender ideology and sexual education in schools during Trafest 2016, a traditionalist conservative gathering held in the coastal city of Dubrovnik in October. Minister Nada Murganic, on the "Otvoreno" TV show on Wednesday, defended the choice of members of the working group, saying it was politically “plural … because we wanted to include people of different orientations”. But Sarnavka said the issue of violence against women and domestic violence should not be seen as an issue of political ideology, left or right, "but a non-ideological issue of expertise”. She said other conservative associations and individuals that also deal with the issue might have been included instead.

Another member of the working group, Neva Tolle, from the Autonomous Safe House in Zagreb, which offers shelter and help to women and children victims of violence, told BIRN that she was also unpleasantly surprised. “It’s highly unusual for the working group for drafting a proposal for ratification of the Istanbul Convention to contain people who publicly declare themselves as against the ratification,” she said. Tolle said she was sceptical about what these two members could do to contribute, fearing that they may just “obstruct the process”. Following BIRN’s inquiry to the ministry about the two members on Thursday, the Ministry replied by offering an official reply “at the beginning of next week”.
© Balkan Insight


Serbian LGBT Activists Report ‘Offensive’ Vucic Video

LGBT campaigners allege that the latest promotional video for PM Aleksandar Vucic’s presidential campaign breaches the law on advertising because it uses a derogatory term for gays.

9/3/2017- A collective of Serbian LGBT NGOs called Da se zna (Let it be Known) have sent an official complaint to Serbian Regulatory Body for Electronic Media, REM, alleging that the latest promotional video released by Aleksandar Vucic in his campaign for the presidency contains offensive speech. The video shows Vucic in a bar being quizzed by a young man about the achievements of his government. Each time Vucic lists a success, everyone in the bar raises their glasses. At the end of the video, a TV in the corner of the bar is broadcasting a football match and fans can be heard shouting “Vucic, faggot!” The video aims to mock an incident in October 2014, when football fans chanted the phrase at an incident-marred international match between Serbia and Albania in Belgrade. Dragoslava Barzut from Da sezna told BIRN that the video promotes homophobic language and urged the REM to take action.

“We think that the ruling [Progressive] party [led by Vucic], which supports European values, should not bring vocabulary stigmatising LGBT people into political discourse,” Barzut said. Milos Stojkovic, a lawyer who participated in drafting the laws on advertising, electronic communications and electronic media, said that Vucic’s video contravenes the Law on Advertising, which says that adverts cannot spread hate or intolerance. “This specific message has the potential to be offensive to people of an alternative sexual orientation; aggressive chants [of this phrase] could be offensive to the LGBT community,” Stojkovic told BIRN. Stojkovic says that if a TV station broadcasts the video, the REM should take action on its own, not just to react to complaints.

If the video is only seen online, the trade ministry’s market inspection unit should sanction it, he said. He said the unit should ask YouTube to remove the video because of the offensive wording, and also order the removal of the offensive wording from the clip. Neither Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party nor the REM responded to BIRN’s questions regarding the video by the time of publication. The REM has told news website Insajder that it has not made any specific decision about monitoring the presidential election campaign, but if anyone complains, it will consider their grievance. The REM is obliged to ensure that broadcast media obey the law during the election campaign. It has no legal powers to punish violations, but must report them to the state Anti-Corruption Agency. The REM told Insajder that it still hasn’t published its monitoring report on the last elections in April 2016 because it is understaffed.
© Balkan Insight


Czechs fail to take modern approach to gender equality, foreign minister says

8/3/2017- The Czech Republic is not among the EU's progressive and cultivated countries in ensuring gender equality, and it has even been one of the worst due to the pay differences and the conditions of mothers, Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek said at a conference yesterday. The whole society pays dearly, also financially, for the worse position of women, Zaoralek (Social Democrats, CSSD), told journalists during the 22% Towards Equality conference. The conference, marking the International Women's Day, highlighted the pay differences between Czech men and women, which rank among the deepest in Europe. In the Czech Republic, women's pay is 22 percent lower on average than men's. In addition, the employment of mothers of children under six is the third lowest in Europe.

Zaoralek called the unequal conditions for men and women "a display of backwardness and parochialism." "It is a shame and I feel ashamed of it," he told the conference. Labour and Social Affairs Minister Michaela Marksova (CSSD) said the 22-percent pay difference corresponds to some 6,700 crowns a month. Women's lower incomes afflict not only them but also their offspring, and they negatively influence women's pensions that are 20-percent lower than men's, Marksova said. The pay differences persist in spite of the government's effort to eliminate them. In the private and the state sectors, women's pay were 24 and 17 percent lower than men's, respectively, in the first half of 2016. In 2016, the Labour Ministry launched a five-year project 22% Towards Equality, which offers a pay audit programme to firms and institutions.

"We do not want to campaign by means of tough measures and fines, but to explain employers whether the wages they pay are just...The employers are often surprised after checking the situation," Marksova said. She said the introduction of children's groups and small nurseries helped improve the gender equality in the Czech Republic in the past several years. The position of small children's parents might also improve based on a planned new provision in the Labour Code, which would bind employers to explain in writing why they would not grant a part-time job to applicants from among parents, Marksova said. Zaoralek said Czechs should not only discuss the problem of inequality and undignified conditions but also seek a change in this respect. He said the causes of the Czech approach to gender equality originate back in the period of the communist regime. At the time, gender equality only meant that "women could work as hard as men, and they obtained a carnation once a year, on the International Women's Day," Zaoralek added.
© The Prague Daily Monitor


Czech region refuses to write report on Roma

8/3/2017- The Liberec Region will not send a report on the state of its Roma minority to the Government Office as its methodological instructions are inhumane, deputy regional governor for social affairs Ivan Langr (Change for Liberec) told journalists yesterday. The report has been serving as a basis for a national report for years. Langr asked the human rights minister and ombudsman to adopt a stance on it. "We want to be assured whether it is really acceptable to base monitoring documents of a similar type on anthropology and on a generalisation of social patterns," Langr said. "We want to know whether all of this is in accordance with the official human rights policy in the Czech Republic," he added.
Langr said he was opposed to the remarks in the methodology he had sent to the media.

Langr said they advised social workers, civil servants, school principals and teachers to identify members of the Roma ethnic group "on the basis of real or imaginary (anthropolo-gical, cultural and social) indicators." Langr said he was of the view that the government officials incited to create one's own sample of visible physical signs to determine who is a Romany. Such results should be recorded in official statistics. "We cannot create any false statistics of members of a minority according to some imaginary visible features, generalised patterns of behaviour of social habits and to push those who may be consistent with this into a category they themselves refuse," Langr said. He mentioned a Soviet film on the war in which an SS member examined the prisoners of war to determine who is of Jewish origin according to their faces and noses.
© The Prague Daily Monitor


Norwegian Nazis On The Rise

Nazis are becoming more active and organized in the Nordic countires. Several of the 20-30 members of the Resistance Movement in Norway have criminal records related to violence.

7/3/2017- About 70 years have gone by since the Norwegian resistance movement was fighting against Nazism and the occupation of Norway. Today, Nazis in the Nordic countries, or National-Socialists as they call themselves, have formed their own so-called resistance movement. They plan on starting a political party, according to NRK.

The Resistance Movement
The resistance movement (Den nordiske motstandsbevegelsen) believes that Norway has secretly been occupied of a Jewish-Zionist foreign power and that Norwegian democracy is therefore illegitimate. They believe that the Holocaust is a lie, homosexuality in public and same-sex marriage should be forbidden, and that schools should have nationalistic core values. They want a “racially customized” form of government where anyone who is not of Northern European or similar ethnicity will be thrown out of the country.

Not A Political Threat
Terje Emberland who is a senior researcher at the Center for Studies of the Holocaust and Religious Minorities told NRK that he doesn’t worry about Nazism becoming a political threat in Norway because we have experience with having been occupied. However, he points out that they are a threat to the groups that they target. That could be Jews, asylum centers, journalists and other groups. When NRK asked “How much impact can such an organization have? Are they trying to hide that this is something that they stand for?” Emberland replied “No, they’re not trying to hide it. They are on the contrary, standing up for their values and honoring Hitler, denying the Holocaust, harassing Jews, and so on. So that in that respect, this organization is so extreme and so evident in their old Nazi ideology that in many ways, it is unlikely that they’ll get any kind of political support.”

Nazis On The Shooting Range
NRK has identified 30 Norwegian activists of the movement. Seventeen of them have been sentenced a total of 24 times in Norwegian courts in the past decade. Many of these sentences were for serious crimes. Six of them were for violence and three of them were for breaches of the Firearms Act, according to NRK. Several members of the Nordic Resistance Movement have legal weapons and are actively training to use them. At least 3 members practice shooting at a shooting range in Elverum. These 3 people have lost permission to have private weapons but are still allowed to rent guns for target practice at the shooting range, according to NRK. The owners of the shooting range are not allowed to deny individuals access to their facilities unless the police has given them a reason to do so.

Demonstrating Again
The National-Socialists, as they liked to be called, have had protests in Sweden, where most of their members reside. Now, they are planning a demonstration in an unknown city in Norway this summer to protest against LGBT rights. Jakob Ravndal who researches extremism warns not to make this into a bigger problem than it is. “They have to be taken seriously, but at the same time, we shouldn’t exaggerate their significance- neither politically nor with regards to violence. We’re talking about a very, very small group of people with an ideology that will have great difficulty gaining a foothold in this country,” he told NRK.
© The Nordic Page


Austria threatens EU funding cuts over Hungary's hard line on refugees

Chancellor to raise issue of contributions to Hungary and Poland at summit this week

8/3/2017- Austria has warned that net contributors to the EU budget will refuse to continue paying unless beneficiaries in central Europe take their quota of refugees. Austria’s chancellor, Christian Kern, said he would raise the issue of cutting EU contributions to countries such as Hungary and Poland at an EU summit this week. Hungary has taken a hard line against refugees and on Tuesday passed a law to force all asylum seekers into detention camps while they wait for their cases to be heard. The country’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, welcomed the move in a speech to border guards in which he called migration “a Trojan horse for terrorism”.

Kern told Die Welt: “The money from the EU budget must also be spread more equitably among the member countries in the future. If countries continue to avoid resolving the issue of migration, or tax dumping at the expense of their neighbours, they will not be able to receive net new payments of billions from Brussels.” He said some countries expected solidarity on economic development, security interests or sanctions against Russia but refused it on other issues. “Selective solidarity should in the future also lead to selective payments among the net payers. Solidarity is not a one-way street,” he said. So far 13,500 refugees have been redistributed under an EU scheme. Poland has not yet accepted a single migrant out of its allocated 6,182 and is the largest net recipient from the EU budget, at €9.5bn. It is followed in the region by the Czech Republic (€5.7bn), Romania (€5.2bn) and Hungary (€4.6bn). As many as 98,000 refugees are due to distributed by September.

The issue of EU budget contributions is becoming more politically controversial in the wake of the decision of the UK, a net contributor, to leave the EU. Kern said the absence of UK contributions after Brexit would require efficiency savings to stop the sums paid by remaining member states from rising. The UN high commissioner for human rights, Prince Zeid bin Ra’ad, on Wednesday accused Orbán of promoting “toxic notions of ethic purity” and said detaining asylum seekers fell short of international norms. “Yesterday, the Hungarian parliament passed a bill requiring all migrants to be transported to an area outside the country’s border fence. All asylum seekers would be held in detention in this same area for the entire duration of the country’s asylum procedure, which falls far short of international norms. As is also the case in Poland, the Hungarian government has continued to undermine civil society and judges, and increase government influence over the media.”

The Hungarian government has remained defiant in the face of criticisms from the United Nations and human rights groups, saying it was not interested in those who advocated solutions that led to anarchy and chaos. Foreign affairs spokesman Tamás Menczer rejected criticism of the measure. “The idea that Hungary should disregard both Hungarian and international law and allow illegal immigrants, about whom we know nothing and who have travelled through a host of safe countries just because they want to live in Germany or Sweden, into the country is nonsense,” he said. The Hungarian measure has been welcomed by European far-right parties, including Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland, but has also led some mainstream politicians to call for similar measures.

Stephan Mayer, the interior spokesman for Angela’s Merkel’s CDU/CSU, urged coalition partners the SPD to agree to the construction of transit centres at which asylum seekers would undergo identity and security checks. “The SPD should no longer be closed to this proposal,” Mayer said, adding that it was the best way to prevent a repetition of the influx of migrants in 2015. The SPD rejected the proposal, saying it was at odds with humanitarian and legal principles.
© The Guardian.


France: Marine Le Pen would quit presidency if French people voted against leaving EU

8/3/2017- Marine Le Pen reportedly told a group of entrepreneurs on Tuesday that she would leave the Elysée if French people voted to stay in the European Union, French newspaper Ouest France reports. The leader of the far-right Front National said that if she were elected president of France, her first move would be to start negotiations with the countries of the European Union. "These negotiations are aimed at regaining our economic freedom... If the negotiations do not work, I will say to the French: we must leave the European Union and build a Europe of nations and co-operation," Le Pen said. "What will happen if I tell [the French public] we need to leave and they decide to stay? Well, they will decide, the people are right." "What do you want me to do? I'll leave," she said. "My entire project can only be implemented if we have the means, the levers."

Le Pen was talking to entrepreneurs gathered by the employers' movement Ethic. One of the main points of the far-right candidate's programme is to organise a referendum on the EU, to leave behind the euro and to bring back to French franc, yet only 22% of French voters agree with her idea of leaving the Eurozone. Even among her supporters, only 64% are in favour of the idea. Polls currently show Le Pen narrowly beating independent Emmanuel Macron in the first round of the elections, but ultimately losing out to either Macron or embattled conservative candidate François Fillon. The first round of voting will take place in April, while the second will take place in May.
© The Business Insider


France's Fillon wins party backing after Juppe rules out election bid

Francois Fillon fought off a rebellion that had threatened to end his candidacy for the French presidency on Monday as party leaders swung behind the center-right former prime minister despite allegations that he had misused public funds.

7/3/2017- Hours after party heavyweight Alain Juppe ruled out challenging Fillon, the conservative Republicans' party leadership unanimously backed their beleaguered candidate, Senate leader Gerard Larcher said. "The Republicans are united around Francois Fillon," Larcher told reporters, after telling fellow party officials behind closed doors: "The debate is over". The conservatives are re-launching Fillon's campaign, party chief Bernard Accoyer added. Less than 50 days from the election, opinion polls show 63-year old Fillon - once the election frontrunner - crashing out in the first round. They also show an overwhelming majority of French wanted him to drop out of the election. But despite growing calls within the party against his candidacy, challengers failed to convince Fillon to step down voluntarily and could not agree on an alternative candidate. The allegations that he paid his wife lavishly from taxpayers' funds for doing little work as his parliamentary assistant have badly damaged Fillon and also rattled foreign investors who fear it could boost far-right leader Marine Le Pen's election chances. Fillon denies any wrongdoing. The euro fell on Monday after Juppe announced he would not challenge Fillon.

"What a Waste!"
Juppe, a former prime minister like Fillon, said he had considered stepping in but decided against it because he felt his camp was too divided for him to be able to unite it. "As for the right and the center, what a waste!" Juppe said of his party's chances in the election. Before the scandal, Fillon had been favorite to return the right to power against a backdrop of high unemployment and sluggish growth under Socialist President Francois Hollande. But now his predicted poor showing in the first round on April 23 would leave centrist Emmanuel Macron to face Le Pen in a runoff on May 7. Macron, 39, a former investment banker who has never run for elected office, is forecast to win. Polls have shown that Juppe, who is 71 and lost to the more right-wing Fillon in their party's primaries, would have made the second round comfortably. They also indicated that Juppe would have beaten Le Pen more easily in the second round than Fillon, given his greater appeal to centrist voters opposed to the anti-euro, anti-European Union, anti-immigration stance of the National Front candidate.

"Francois Fillon... had a boulevard (to the presidency) in front of him," Juppe said in the city of Bordeaux. "The instigation of judicial investigations against him and his defense based on a supposed plot and political assassination have brought him to a dead end." Fillon has complained of media and judicial bias against his candidacy that he says amount to a "political assassination". Juppe's uncharacteristically harsh words for Fillon, whom he called obstinate for staying on, exposed the depth of frustration within France's mainstream political right, which has never failed in postwar history to reach the second round of a presidential election but is now forecast to do so.

But Fillon was unfazed, telling the emergency meeting of party officials: "It is time for everybody to get their act together and come back to their senses." "I call on all women and men of good will to rally, to respect the message our voters sent during the primaries and to unite behind my candidacy, which is the only legitimate one," he said, according to a transcript of his speech. Fillon revealed last week he was to be summoned by a judge later in March with a view to being put under formal investigation.
© Reuters


France: Franēois Hollande: Far right poses a ‘threat’ to France and EU

Europe is likely to ‘explode’ unless it is reformed, the French president also said.

6/3/2017- Marine Le Pen poses a “threat” to France and the European Union, outgoing French President François Hollande said Monday. If the far-right presidential candidate were to win, “it would immediately open a process of exit from the eurozone and even from the EU,” Hollande said in an interview published by six European papers. “It is the aim of all populists to leave Europe … My last duty is to do everything possible so that France is not convinced by such a project.” Hollande also endorsed the idea of a multispeed Europe and warned that if it isn’t implemented, “Europe will explode.” “The Europe of 27 can no longer be a uniform Europe,” the French president said. “For a long time, the idea of a differentiated Europe, with different speeds, has aroused much resistance. But today it is an idea that is imposing itself. If not, Europe will explode.” Hollande is set to host the leaders of Germany, Spain and Italy at Versailles on Monday to address European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s five scenarios on the future of the EU. The outgoing president chose not to contest the upcoming elections due to low approval ratings. Recent polls show Le Pen neck-and-neck with centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, with Macron predicted to defeat Le Pen in the runoff vote.
© Politico EU


Breitbart Drags Feet on German Expansion

The American far-right news company Breitbart is still eager to set up shop in Germany, yet serious challenges lie in the way of its build-up in Europe.

7/3/2017- Far-right media company Breitbart was preparing a media offensive in Germany ahead of this September’s parliamentary elections, but those plans appear to have been postponed. German online magazine Telepolis is reporting that the controversial American news outlet is ailing from sinking revenues, amidst a medley of scandals and allegations of faulty reporting, and a German-language version won’t be available online by voting time. Breitbart already has European offices in Rome and London, and is keen to expand into Germany and France, presumably to cheer on far-right candidates in elections as it did for U.S. President Donald Trump.

Both Germany and France have seen a rise in far-right, anti-immigrant sentiment over recent years, with support growing for the National Front party led by Marine Le Pen and the Alternative for Germany (AfD). Since last summer there has been a constant increase in the number of visitors to German far-right sites such as Politically Incorrect, which has now entered the list of the 500 most-visited addresses in Germany. According to German newspaper Die Zeit, a sister publication of Handelsblatt, Breitbart’s expansion is also hindered by logistical problems, such as various German URLs featuring the company’s name in the address being snapped up by activists. Similarly, the media outlet would also need to decide whether it would publish in German or English.

Breitbart also has a poor reputation in Germany thanks to its former chief executive, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon, who is vocally anti-European Union and has reportedly been linked to neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups in the United State. A recent Breitbart article about an alleged attack in Dortmund reported false and highly-exaggerated facts, leading to a tongue-lashing from various German news sources. Breitbart’s Rome correspondent Thomas Williams told Die Zeit that a first round of interviews for the German editorial office had already been conducted and the goal continues to be opening the office in six to eight months. However, Mr. Williams also recently told German far-right publication Junge Freiheit that plans for a German-language edition have been postponed indefinitely because of the many associated complications.

According to analytics company Alexa, is one of the 250 most-visited internet addresses in the world, and lies ahead of even the Washington Post among the U.S.’ most-clicked news websites.
© Handelsblatt Global


Russia gives Beauty and the Beast adults-only rating over gay character

Disney live-action romance will be released with 16+ rating to prevent children from watching, after pressure to ban film over ‘perverted sexual relations’

6/3/2017- After pressure to ban Disney’s live-action take on Beauty and the Beast over a minor gay character, the film will instead be released with a 16+ rating. The family movie, starring Emma Watson, will be given the restricted certificate to prevent children from watching because of the studio’s first “exclusively gay moment” involving a character played by Josh Gad. Certification in Russia is decided by the ministry of culture. Last week ruling party MP Vitaly Milonov called for a ban, referring to the film’s content as “perverted sexual relations” that would be in direct opposition to a Russian law that cracks down on “gay propaganda against minors”. “I’m convinced that the main task of the state regarding children is to protect childhood and youth from the filthiness of the world, to preserve children’s purity, to block our children off from harmful and dangerous phenomena,” he said. “And in this case, our shared task is to not allow the release of this musical on the screen under any guise.”

Last week it was revealed by the film’s director, Bill Condon, that the character of LeFou, played by Gad, would be gay and this would be confirmed at the end after he spends the film pining for his friend Gaston, played by Luke Evans. “It’s somebody who’s just realising that he has these feelings,” he said. “And Josh makes something really subtle and delicious out of it. And that’s what has its payoff at the end, which I don’t want to give away. But it is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie.” The film has also been taken off the schedule by an Alabama cinema because of the scene. Since making the announcement, their Facebook page has been flooded with complaints and has now been taken down. Beauty and the Beast is on track to make $120m on its opening weekend in the US alone.
© The Guardian.


UK: Far-Right and neo-Nazi terror arrests double

9/3/2017- Terror arrests of suspected Right-wing extremists and neo-Nazis more than doubled last year amid fears of a growing threat of political violence from far-Right groups, new Home Office figures show. A total of 35 people were arrested on suspicion of "domestic" terrorism in 2016, which security sources said was dominated by threats from the far-Right. The arrests followed only 15 for domestic terrorism the previous year and come after a warning from the Government’s terrorism watchdog that far-Right extremists now account for one-in-four of those reported to counter-radicalisation schemes. Figures also showed that one-in-three terrorism arrest suspects is now white, up from a quarter in 2015. The increase in domestic terrorism came as arrests for international terrorism including threats like Islamic State and al Qaeda fell slightly and arrests for Northern Ireland-related terrorism remained largely unchanged.

A neo-Nazi group called National Action in December became the first extreme Right-wing group to be banned as a terrorist organisation. The anti-Semitic and white supremacist group had celebrated the murder of the Labour MP Jo Cox by Right-wing extremist Thomas Mair. A report from counter extremism campaign group Hope Not Hate, last month concluded there was “a growing risk of violence and even terrorism from ever smaller but more extreme far-Right groups”. In February, David Anderson QC, then the Government’s independent terror law watchdog, said far-Right terrorism could be as dangerous as Islamist violence. Extremists were also increasingly seeking to “feed off the tension” caused by Islamist terror to plan violence of their own, he warned.

He said: “The threat from extreme Right-wing terrorism in the UK is currently fragmented but the massacre perpetrated by Anders Breivik in Norway is a warning against underestimating the threat. “Both the Government and the courts treat the threat with the seriousness it deserves. Extreme Right-wing ideology can be just as murderous as its Islamist equivalent. A sophisticated network is not a prerequisite for mass slaughter.” A 17-year-old member of National Action was last month given a three-year youth rehabilitation order after building a homemade pipe bomb. The teenager from Bradford, who cannot be named, had also praised Mair online.

The total tally of terror arrests, 260, was down by eight per cent on 2015. International terrorism, such as suspects linked to Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (Isil), accounted for 203 of the arrests. Earlier this week it was revealed that UK security services had foiled 13 potential attacks in less than four years, while counter-terror units were running more than 500 investigations at any time. The official threat level for international terrorism has stood at severe, meaning an attack is "highly likely", for more than two years.
© The Telegraph


UK: Concern as Fife targeted by far right fascist propaganda

Authorities in Fife have strongly condemned the actions of a far right fascist organisation which has focused its attention on the region to spread hate-filled propaganda.

8/3/2017- Members of the British Movement, which was founded in the 1960s and became synonymous with violence and extremism over the decades, have targeted the Kingdom with a series of fly posters popping up particularly in the Dunfermline and Kirkcaldy areas, and the group has also taken to social media in a bid to get its message across. Bus stops have been plastered with material featuring the infamous neo-Nazi ‘sunwheel’ logo which calling on Fifers to “Reject Multiculturalism”, while others have referenced ’14 Words’, which is the most widely-used white supremacist slogan in the world. The sudden rise of the propaganda in various parts of the region has left many people sickened, and police are investigating who is driving the British Movement’s cause.

Chief Superintendent Colin Gall, divisional commander for Fife, confirmed action is being taken to find those promoting the controversial messages. He said: “Posters such as these promote racism and intolerance, neither of which we will tolerate in Fife. “I would urge anyone who spots materials such as these to contact us immediately so we can ensure they are removed and progress inquiries to trace those responsible.” A social media blog entitled ‘Central Belt Fife BM’ was the subject of a complaint to Facebook and was subsequently closed down, but a statement on the British Movement’s main website bemoaned an “unprecedented level of interference by left-wing opponents”.

The website went on to criticise those using “underhand methods” to “censor the truth and prevent the British NS (National Socialist) message getting out to the British public”, adding that the organisation’s priority in 2017 is to “create, develop and broadcast as much BM propaganda and public information as widely as possible”. “It will take more than some ‘internet-armchair’ warrior to silence BM activists,” the website warned. Councillor Margaret Kennedy, chair of Fife’s safer communities committee,said: “This is most concerning indeed. It is not acceptable to have any form of racism displayed.” Ms Kennedy added that the council’s policy, once advised of these posters, is to remove them within 24 hours as they are viewed as “unacceptable graffiti”.

Mark McCall, safer communities service manager with Fife Council, commented: “Everyone has the right to live safely and without fear. Experiencing any abuse, harassment or violence can be devastating. “Hate incidents can include verbal abuse, jokes, written abuse, threats, assault, property damage, incidents online and graffiti. “We work hard to reduce crime and the fear of crime and would encourage anyone who experiences or sees it happen to get in touch with the police or call Fife Council on 03451 55 00 22. “Similarly if anyone sees anyone fly-posting they should also call us on the same number so we can arrange for any posters to be remoAved.” The British Movement, which started life as a political party, became increasingly known for its violent attacks on minorities in the 70s and 80s in England, although it was thought to have collapsed in 1983. However, the movement has since re-emerged, albeit with a much smaller membership, and has had a growing presence on the internet.
© The Courier


Ukraine takes Russia to UN court for terrorism and racial discrimination

The International Court of Justice in The Hague is hearing a case brought by Ukraine against Russia, accusing Moscow of illegally annexing Crimea and illicitly funding separatist rebels.

6/3/2017- Ukraine is seeking compensation for what it describes as terrorist acts committed on its soil. They include the shooting down in 2014 of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, which killed all 298 people on board. Russia has repeatedly denied sending troops or weapons to eastern Ukraine. It also denies bringing down MH17. However the US military has said thousands of Russian troops have been operating in eastern Ukraine since the beginning of the crisis. Dutch air accident investigators meanwhile say a Russian-made missile fired from territory held by pro-Russian rebels hit flight MH17. In their opening remarks, lawyers for Ukraine have accused Russia of making it "impossible for Ukrainian citizens to feel safe anywhere in their country". They have asked the court to issue Russia with an order to "cease and desist". The legal action is being brought under UN anti-terrorism and anti-discrimination conventions.

Russia is expected to challenge the jurisdiction of the court, says the BBC's Anna Holligan in The Hague. Ukraine says Russia is in breach of the Terrorist Financing Treaty by supporting armed groups in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic, the ICJ reports in a press release. It also accuses Russia of mistreating members of the Tatar ethnic group in Crimea and banning their representative organisation, the Majlis of the Crimean Tatar People, after annexing the territory, which it says is a breach of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), Russia has said it took control of Crimea to protect ethnic Russians living there from discrimination. There will be four days of hearings in total, with Ukraine and Russia given two each. More than 10,000 people have lost their lives in nearly three years of conflict in eastern Ukraine.
© BBC News.


UK: Police announce misogyny is to be recognised as a hate crime

Misogyny is to be recognised as a hate crime by North Yorkshire Police.

8/3/2017- Deputy Chief Constable Lisa Winward has released a blog on the North Yorkshire Police website today, announcing the forces decision to adapt their hate crime policy to include misogyny. Echoing a move made by Nottinghamshire Police in July 2016, from later on this year North Yorkshire Police will recognise misogyny as a form of hate crime and over the coming months will be training officers in the recognition and prosecution of the offence. The definition of the crime that the force will follow is any criminal offence which is perceived by the female victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice based on her gender.

Speaking about the inclusion of misogyny DCC Winward said: “Unfortunately, the reality is we live in a world where some women have to take extra measures such as carrying rape alarms or avoiding certain routes, to avoid harassment or potential attack. "The feeling of vulnerability is real for some women within our communities. The role of the police is to identify and protect those who are vulnerable and I hope that this move will encourage women who are subject to verbal and physical harassment simply because of their gender, to come forward and report it to us. "We know through our work with the North Yorkshire Youth Commission that physical and verbal harassment is an issue that is of concern for young women in North Yorkshire, with some of them experiencing it first-hand. I think this makes our decision even more relevant in the fact that our younger generation are having to consider this matter, that in 2017 misogynistic behaviour is still something that women are experiencing.”
© The Northern Echo


UK: Far right forgot mosque attacker's criminal past while spewing bigoted bile against his sentence

Dozens of far right protesters marched on Saturday against the jail sentence handed to a man who tied bacon to the door handles of a mosque. Bristol Post journalist Lewis Pennock gives his opinion on the demo.


6/3/2017- A far-right group marched in fury this weekend against the one-year jail term handed to a man who tied bacon to the door handles of a mosque in Bristol. About fifty demonstrators, some masked, gathered in condemnation of the 'outrageous sentence' handed to Kevin Crehan after he threw bacon at Jamia Mosque in Totterdown and abused elderly worshippers. They furiously denounced the British justice system, chanted Islamophobic slogans, and clashed violently with an anti-fascist counter-march. They claimed to be angry because Crehan died in prison while serving a sentence they felt was unjust; he was found dead in HMP Bristol in December, with police later calling the circumstances 'not suspicious'. The demonstration was encouraged by the likes of former English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson, who fuelled the fire when he tweeted that Crehan 'should never have been' in prison.

The consensus was Crehan was handed such a harsh punishment by a 'politically correct' justice system because his crime was against a mosque – and that a Muslim in a similar position would be treated much more leniently. But in taking to the streets and spewing their bigoted bile – at one point chanting 'f*** Islam' – the horde seemed to forget his string of previous convictions, which undoubtedly influenced the term. The 35-year-old was a convicted football hooligan. Among other things, he had previous for assaulting a police officer, he had once been caught carrying a sawn-off pool cue down his trousers and he was banned from going within a mile of Ashton Gate, Bristol City's football ground.

Crehan had been before the courts for these crimes. This isn't a comment on his character – but the angry mob should consider his criminal past before using this sorry episode to protest against a supposedly corrupt judiciary. Their response to Crehan's sentence, after news of his death broke, slammed 'liberal politically correct judges'. Some used social media to complain of 'one law for us and one law for them' ('them' presumably referring to non-white people), while others bemoaned the fact 'you can burn poppies and get away with it' – which, by the way, you can't. There are plenty of lenient jail terms which leave the public scratching their heads, but this shouldn't be one. The truth in this case is the court was presented with a man who had a long criminal past – and it dealt with him accordingly. Tommy Robinson and his followers should consider that before using the case to fuel their barmy conspiracy about a justice system – and a country – pandering to Islam.

© The Bristol Post

Romania: Bill Targeting Ethnic Hungarians Criticized

Lawmaker insists that his proposal to criminalize attempts at 'changing the constitutional order' isn’t aimed at protesters.

6/3/2017- One would think that this was not the best time to introduce controversial legislation in Romania – just weeks after the largest protests in post-1989 history made the government backtrack on a law decriminalizing some instances of corruption. Yet Tudor Ciuhodaru, a parliamentary member from the ruling Social Democrat Party (PSD), has been attempting to push through a new law that has human rights activists on edge, Balkan Insight writes. The bill, cited by Mediafax, carries jail sentences of between six months and three years for actions “carried out with the aim of changing the constitutional order, or hindering or preventing the state from wielding its power.”

Ciuhodaru told Digi24 that his aim was to fill a gap in existing legislation, related to “extremist and separatist movements.”
Extremist and separatist movements are condemned throughout the entire world (…) especially when it comes to desecrating national symbols, and the laws need to be very strict,” Ciuhodaru said according to Digi24.

Ciuhodaru also stressed in a Facebook post that the law didn’t target protests such as the recent ones against the government, and that he had first presented the idea in 2012, after episodes of unrest in the Szekler community, a subgroup of the country’s 1.2 million Hungarian community in central Transylvania. According to Balkan Insight, Ciuhodaru said he wrote the bill before the recent disturbances, with the proposed legislation only reaching the Senate last week. Social Democrat spokesperson Adrian Dobre said that his party doesn’t support Ciuhodaru’s proposal, which has several flaws related to its constitutionality, according to a different Digi24 article.

Ethnic politics in Transylvania can prove a tricky subject, as U.S. Ambassador to Romania Hans Klemm discovered last fall. Klemm found himself in hot water over a photo appearance in Romania featuring the official flag of the Szekler minority group. At the end of January, 10 ethnic Hungarians from Romania started gathering signatures for a bill for the independence of Szeklerland, Hotnews writes. The initiative needs at least 100,000 signatures from at least 10 out of the country’s 41 counties to spark a debate in parliament.
© Transitions Online.


UK: Driver dragged from taxi in racist attack in Edinburgh

A gang of about 10 people dragged a taxi driver from his vehicle and attacked him in what police are calling a racially-motivated assault and robbery in Edinburgh.

6/3/2017- The attack happened in West Pilton Place at about 18:55 on Sunday while the taxi was stationary. One of the gang jumped onto the taxi's bonnet and smashed the windscreen.  A three-figure sum of cash was stolen from the taxi. The attackers were male and female aged between 14 and 20. The man who jumped on the taxi is white, tall, of slim build and was wearing a red top. The same youths had earlier stepped out in front of his taxi at the junction with Crewe Road Gardens and West Pilton Place, forcing him to stop and stealing an item from his boot. Barbara Beaufoy, secretary of Tenants and Residents in Muirhouse (TRIM) and Friends of West Pilton (FOWP), said: "Trim and Friends of West Pilton were appalled to hear of the assault and robbery of a taxi driver. "We believe that everyone, going about their normal daily lives, has the right to do so in safety and not fall victim to anti-social or criminal behaviour." Det Con Euan Hair, of Police Scotland, said: "We are treating this assault and robbery as racially-motivated and are determined to track down these suspects as quickly as possible. "This man was simply going about his legitimate business and he has a right to do so without being assaulted. "There is no place for racism in our communities and we will use all resources available to deal with those responsible swiftly."
© BBC News.


Germany: Terror trial in Dresden for Freital neo-Nazi group

Eight people are on trial in Dresden for bomb attacks on homes for asylum applicants. Hundreds of similar assaults occur in Germany every year, but they had never been tried as terrorism in a federal court.

6/3/2017- A major trial against the eight far-right extremists known as the Freital Group began in Dresden on Tuesday. The seven men and one woman, aged between 19 and 38, face a marathon 62 days in court as federal prosecutors seek to lay out a complex case showing that the organization amounted to a terrorist cell. The group, based in the small Saxony town of Freital, is accused of carrying out five separate attacks beginning in summer 2015 and planning more. The targets of the attacks included several refugee homes, the offices of left-wing politicians and a car belonging to a local Left party leader. Though no one was killed, the terror charges - and the fact that federal rather than state prosecutors are involved - makes this one of the most significant trials in recent German history and could act as a precedent for other such trials.

Long charge sheet
The charges include counts of attempted murder, grievous bodily harm, causing an explosion and property damage, though not all members are accused of each act. Only two people were injured in the incidents, though prosecutors say that deaths were only avoided because people were able to get to safety before the homemade explosives went off. In 2015, the leaders of the group, 27-year-old Timo S. and 25-year-old Patrick F., founded the so-called citizens' defense group, which quickly began planning violent attacks. "The aim of this group was to carry out bomb attacks on asylum-seeker shelters, as well as on the apartments, offices and vehicles of those with differing political views," federal prosecutors said in a statement released in November 2016. "In this way the accused wanted to create a climate of fear and repression."

The Freital Group (which also called itself Citizens Defense FTL/360) stockpiled fireworks - bought in the Czech Republic and illegal in Germany - that members used to manufacture pipe bombs in September 2015. That month, Patrick F. and one other unidentified member of the group attached one of these homemade explosives to the outside of a kitchen window of a local refugee shelter and detonated it. According to the prosecutor's statement, the only reason the eight people living there survived was because they weren't in the kitchen when the bomb exploded. The following month, prosecutors say, the entire group attacked an "alternative living project" in Dresden, throwing cobblestones and small homemade explosives through the windows, injuring one of the inhabitants. Another bomb attack on a residence for asylum applicants followed that month, leaving one person with facial injuries from broken glass as another homemade bomb went off.

'No confidence' in Saxony justice
For Matthias Quent, director of the Thuringia-based Institute for Democracy and Civil Society, the most significant aspect of the case is the fact that it is being taken so seriously by the authorities. "It's a bit of a test case for the federal prosecutors to work with a terrorist charge," Quent said. "For me, it's an accurate charge because the aim of the perpetrators was to spread fear. The fact that it was aimed not at the state, but against individual groups - refugees and those who helped refugees - diminishes neither the gravity of the crime nor the message it is sending out."

This is likely to be the central issue in the trial, as the defense attorneys aren't denying the crimes, only their categorization as terrorism. For Quent, this categorization is vital - not least because it represents a reaction by the authorities to the botched investigations into the murders carried out by the National Socialist Underground: a series of ten racist killings committed over the course of a decade. "For a long time, they didn't see this - now they are more alert, and see terrorism even when it is not primarily directed at the state, but against immigrants," he said.

Quent even called the federal prosecutors' decision to take the case as a "vote of no confidence" in their state counterparts and the local judiciary in Saxony - "because at least three police officers are under suspicion of at least having contact with the group." All this may only be the tip of the iceberg. "Very few of the perpetrators of attacks on asylum-seekers' homes are found and prosecuted," Quent said. Federal police statistics show that there were 921 attacks on asylum shelters in Germany in 2016, with suspects identified in only about 20 percent of the cases. "We just don't know who is behind them - whether they're individual perpetrators or organized structures," Quent said, "but experience suggests that it is often very similar structures to those standing in court in Freital."
© The Deutsche Welle*


Dutch back Muslims as far-right MP vows to close mosques

5/3/2017- Hundreds of Dutch citizens met at an Amsterdam mosque Sunday to show solidarity with the country's Muslim population, as an anti-Islam MP again vowed to shut mosques and ban the Koran should he win upcoming elections. Some 200 people representing a broad coalition against racism in The Netherlands gathered at the central Al-Kabir mosque, saying they were deeply worried about the rise of discrimination against Muslims in the European country. "It's very important that we make our voice heard. We as a Muslim community pose no danger whatsoever to society," said Najem Ouladali, one of the organisers of the meeting which also included members of Amsterdam's gay and lesbian community. "In fact, we are victims too of Islamic extremism," added another speaker, Abdou Menebhi, who chairs a Moroccan organisation in The Netherlands. Various estimates put The Netherlands' Muslim population between 840,000 to 960,000 people, or around 5.0 percent out of a population of some 17 million people. Most Muslims are from Turkish or Moroccan descent, according to the Dutch central statistics office.

- 'Dangerous to society' -
Talk during the meeting, which was paused for afternoon prayers, constantly returned to Dutch firebrand far-right MP Geert Wilders, who is campaigning ahead of elections on an anti-Islam ticket. The 53-year-old Wilders has courted controversy with his hardline anti-Islam, anti-immigrant stance and his incendiary insults against Moroccans and Turks. He has vowed in his party's one-page manifesto that if elected he would ban the sale of Korans, close mosques and Islamic schools, shut Dutch borders and ban Muslim migrants. Support however for Wilders and his extreme stance seems to have withered in recent days according to the latest polls. "We believe that what Wilders is doing is very dangerous to our society," Ouladali told AFP after the mosque meeting, speaking in Dutch. Ineke van der Valk, a researcher at the University of Amsterdam told the meeting that incidents of hate crimes against Muslims were on the rise in The Netherlands. Since 2015 incidents involving discrimination have almost doubled and there were at least 54 incidents involving mosques -- like threatening letters displaying Nazi symbols she said. "There has been a worrisome rise in this kind of activity in our country," Van der Valk said.

- 'Mosques to close' -
Meanwhile the firebrand Wilders again vowed to close mosques, should he become prime minister after the vote, seen as a key litmus test of the rise of populist and far-right parties ahead of other national elections to be held across Europe later this year. "Closing mosques may be more difficult but you can do it," Wilders told journalists in an industrial suburb of Amsterdam earlier at a press meeting. "You have to change the Constitution. It takes time, certainly in Holland... but I am a lawmaker and if anyone can change the constitution and propose this, it's me," Wilders said. Just 10 days before elections Wilders and his Freedom Party (PVV) appears to have slipped into second place behind the Liberal party of incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte after months of leading the opinion polls.

"I am confident we will all have excellent results," Wilders told a gaggle of mainly foreign journalists, referring also to France's far-right presidential hopeful Marine Le Pen. "Even if that will not be the case, the genie will not go back into the bottle... certainly things will change in Europe," he insisted. Boosted by the polarising debate over immigration, and initially by the victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential race, Wilders had been leading polls since late last year. But the latest collated polls by the Dutch website Peilingwijzer (Poll indicator) from seven different agencies on Saturday showed Rutte's VVD party would now win 23 to 27 seats in the 150-seat lower house of parliament, with the PVV set to garner 22-26 seats if elections were held today.


Bulgarian court acquits vigilante migrant tracker

7/3/2017- A Bulgarian man who posted a video showing three Afghan migrants lying tied up on the ground near the Turkish border was acquitted on Tuesday of illegally detaining them, after a court ruled there was insufficient evidence against him. Petar Nizamov, 31, nicknamed Perata, was arrested last April after posting the video on social media. It showed two men lying on the ground with their hands tied behind their backs. A third man lay flat on his stomach, restrained with long plastic cable ties, while an unidentified voice shouted in English: "Go back. Back Turkey. Now. No Bulgaria, go Turkey immediately".  All three men were later found by border police, no longer tied up, and were taken to an accommodation center for migrants. The video was included as evidence but the regional court in Burgas said it could not confirm Nizamov's participation since witnesses said they could not remember who tied up the migrants.

National television bTV reported that Nizamov thanked the judge, who he said was "one of the few courageous judges who oppose the organized trafficking of migrants". He also told the court he intended to continue to patrol at the border. Prosecutors plan to appeal against the court's decision. Tough measures to restrict asylum seekers and migrants are supported by all political parties in the Balkan country, which has built a wall along its border with Turkey. Figures from Bulgaria's Interior Ministry show the number of people officially detained at the Turkish border dropped to 64 in January, compared to 712 in January 2016.
© Reuters


Bulgaria: Roma Marginalization 'Remains Most Pressing Human Rights Problem'

The marginalization of "and societal intolerance towards the Romani minority remained the country's most pressing human rights problem", alongside anti-refugee sentiment and deteriorating media environment, the US Department of State says.

4/3/2017- In its annual human rights report on Bulgaria, it says: "Other reported human rights problems included police violence; harsh conditions in prisons and detention facilities; and long delays in the judicial system. There were reports of religious discrimination and harassment; shortcomings in refugee integration processes and policies; election fraud; gender-based violence and discrimination against women; violence against children; increasing online anti-Semitism; trafficking in persons; discrimination against persons with disabilities, ethnic minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and social stigma against persons with HIV/AIDS. Child labor and discrimination against members of minorities in employment and occupation were also reported."

The State Department recalls that in 2015 the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) issued a statement concluding police brutality was a systemic problem, based on a significant number of allegations of deliberate physical mistreatment of persons detained by police. Conditions in most prisons were "harsh, with inadequate sanitary, living and medical facilities" as of 2016, according to the report. Another area of concern is the judiciary, as "the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but corruption, inefficiency, and a lack of accountability continued to be pervasive problems. Public trust in the judicial system remained extremely low because of the perception that magistrates were susceptible to political pressure and rendered unequal justice."

In the section about "corruption ald lack of transparency in government", the text reads: "While the law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials in all branches of government reportedly engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Corrupt practices included bribery, conflict of interest, elaborate embezzlement schemes, procurement violations, and influence trading." Human rights "form an essential foundation of stable, secure, and functioning societies. Standing up for human rights and democracy is not just a moral imperative but is in the best interests of the United States in making the world more stable and secure." The reports also "reflect the concerted efforts of our embassies and consulates to gather the most accurate information possible. They are prepared by human rights officers at U.S. missions around the world who review information available from a wide variety of civil society, government, and other sources."
The report is available

© Novinite

Poland: Faith, flag and football: how the game developed a white supremacist fringe

Among the colours and badges of Polish football clubs is a banner declaring, “Death to the enemies of the fatherland”.

6/3/2017- Poland’s Catholic churches rarely want for colour, but even the gaudiest frescoes and stained-glass windows struggled to compete with the sea of striped hats and scarves on show at the 14th-century Jasna Góra Monastery, as fans of football teams from across Poland gathered there in January. This is Poland’s holiest shrine, and the crowds were here to celebrate faith, family and football. As in other European countries, pockets of nationalist and white-supremacist football fans have long been a presence on the margins of Polish society. In recent years, they have grown in number, as many Poles turn their backs on what they regard as the unfulfilled promises of a liberal European future.
Although much international attention has been given to Poland’s authoritarian turn since the election of the populist-nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party in 2015, nationalist and xenophobic sentiment had been on the rise for some time. It was accelerated by a frustration with Poland’s uneven economic growth and fears relating to the refugee crisis and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As nativist sentiment has risen, so have the fortunes of the parties to the right of PiS. This poses a dilemma for a party that styles itself as the natural home for Polish “patriots”, in contrast to its pro-European rival, Civic Platform. In the run-up to the Uefa European Championship in Poland and Ukraine in 2012, Poland’s then Civic Platform-led government (which was headed by Donald Tusk before he became president of the European Council in 2014) clamped down on organised hooliganism. It was feared that violence or instances of racism could disrupt the tournament and damage the country’s reputation abroad.

That provided an opening for far-right and right-wing politicians to adopt the nationalist fans’ cause, portraying them as ordinary patriots enduring harassment from a liberal government hostile to “traditional” cultural values. Their cause has also been adopted by hardliners within the Polish Catholic Church, who share PiS’s view that the country’s values and identity are under sustained attack by decadent, Western cosmopolitanism and the racial diversity imposed from above by Brussels. This alliance is cemented each year by the “Fans’ Patriotic Pilgrimage” to Jasna Góra. At the latest meeting in January, Holy Mass in the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was presided over by Father Jaroslaw Wasowicz, a cleric with connections to the fanatical supporters of the Ekstraklasa league team Lechia Gdansk.

After the Mass, the fans lined the streets of the monastery compound, waiting in temperatures of -15°C to be blessed by priests wearing football scarves over their cassocks. Among the colours and badges of Polish football clubs were a wide array of nationalist slogans, ranging from garden-variety patriotism to radical right-wing and white-supremacist symbols. They included banners demanding the restoration to Poland of lands now in Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine, and the ubiquitous slogan of “Death to the enemies of the fatherland”. “This bizarre ceremony is encouraged by the Church and illustrates the increasingly xenophobic climate in Poland, especially among young people,” said Rafa³ Pankowski, a scholar and anti-racism campaigner based at the Collegium Civitas in Warsaw. In his sermon, Father Wasowicz told the fans that PiS had ensured that the “shining light of hope is never extinguished in our country”. “We want a Christian Europe, because only by appealing to fundamental values can we defend the continent against annihilation,” he declared. A theme of the sermon was that the fans embodied the spirit of the so-called Cursed Soldiers, Polish fighters who died resisting the imposition of communism in the 1940s.

An increasingly mainstream belief on the Polish right is that Poland, its culture and traditions are threatened by the “leftist” notions of multiculturalism, in much the same way that they were once threatened by Soviet domination. That argument has given many young nationalists the impression that they represent a new generation of Cursed Soldiers. They are, they claim, the vanguard of a new movement to defend Poland from foreign invasions of a different kind, whether it be godless liberalism, the “Muslim terror” imposed by refugee quotas from Brussels, or even the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who have sought economic opportunities in Poland. “We are inspired by the values of those who defended our homeland,” one fan said, his arms crossed and his face hidden from the cold. “For eight years, under the previous government, us patriots were provoked by the authorities. But now things are more comfortable.”

The right-wing fans’ self-confidence is reflected in the rise in popularity of “patriotic street wear”: clothing brands with names such as “Red Is Bad” (the “Red” apparently stands for communism) or “Patoriots” (sic), which combines love for the homeland with an enthusiasm for the art of rioting. These brands specialise in tracksuits, caps and hoodies bearing patriotic slogans and gruesome depictions of foreign occupations. As the sun went down, fans gathered in front of the monastery for a display of fireworks launched from the walls, which were covered from top to bottom with red and white banners. They joined in by firing red flares that lit up the winter night’s sky, as they broke into smaller groups, chanting nationalist slogans.

“White Uni(a)ted” declared a banner hung on the side of the monastery by the self-described “skinheads” of Unia Tarnów. While under the protection of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, a revered Byzantine icon, this place is said to have withstood a 17th-century siege by Swedish invaders. Now, an invocation of white supremacy hangs outside the home of what can be seen, in essence, as Poland’s only symbol of black power.
© The New Statesman


Polish MEPs wash their dirty linen in Parliament

8/3/2017- Absent from his AFET Committee this morning, the hapless Polish migrant MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, who yesterday had resigned from the EPP, was mercilessly savaged today by compatriots, among whom the former Commissioner Janusz Lewandowski, for having betrayed the EPP by villainously accepting Jaroslav Kaczyński’s proposal to replace the current president of the Council Donald Tusk. Polish MEPs hostile to the Eurosceptic Jaroslaw Kaczynski-dominated PiS government in Warsaw underlined in the Parliament today, in front of other AFET MEPs, that Tusk is backed by 56% of Poland, while Saryusz-Wolski by only 20%. There is a long lasting feud between Lewandowski and Saryusz-Wolski. In 2009, Saryusz-Wolski had tried hard to become Poland’s Commissioner, but Tusk, then prime minister, had backed Lewandowski, who is now paying him back.

As for Jaroslav Kaczyński he personally hates Tusk, whom he holds morally responsible for his twin brother’s death in the 2010 crash of Poland’s presidential jet in Smolensk, Russia, in which Lech, his brother, who was then head of state, died along with 95 other high-ranking officials affiliated with the party. The rivalry between Tusk and the Kaczyński twins was always a permanent political show in Poland. In 2008, at the October EU summit, both Tusk and the late president Lech Kaczyński fought for the right to sit at the table in Brussels with the other leaders. Tusk refused to let Kaczyński have an official plane and headed himself for Brussels, but Kaczyński chartered his own flight and appeared at the Council, like the ghost of revenge in Hamlet, embarrassing Tusk and everybody else around the table. Most capitals back Tusk’s re-election as European Council President, be it only to spite the Eurosceptic government in Warsaw and their permanent assault on justice at home.
© New Europe


Petition to suspend 'sexist' far-right European lawmaker goes viral

10/3/2017- More than 700,000 people had by Thursday (March 9) signed a petition demanding the European Parliament suspend a Polish far-right MEP who said women should be paid less because they are weaker and less intelligent than men. Global civic movement Avaaz launched the online petition against MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke on Wednesday, which was International Women's Day. "We ask the European Parliament to suspend the Polish MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke following his hateful remarks about women and migrants, and after making a Nazi salute in the chamber," the petition says. "These acts are in violation of the Parliament's rules and betray the values of the entire EU which our Parliament is elected to defend."

The European Parliament on Friday launched a probe against Korwin-Mikke, 74, for "sexist remarks" that could result in a fine or suspension. He has previously been sanctioned by the EU assembly for making racist comments and remarks about the Holocaust. "Of course women must earn less than men, because they are weaker, they are smaller, they are less intelligent, they must earn less, that's all," Korwin-Mikke told parliament on March 1. The bowtie-wearing, moustachioed Korwin-Mikke made the comments after interrupting a speech by a female Spanish MEP, Iratxe Garcia-Perez. He first made remarks about women in sport and added: "Do you know how many women are in the first 100 of chess players. I tell you: no one." Garcia Perez then shot back: "According to what you are saying... I would not have the right to be here. "I think I have to defend European women to men like you."

Korwin-Mikke has previously courted controversy by claiming Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was "not aware of the extermination of the Jews", calling refugees "human garbage" and using a racist term to refer to black Americans.


Polish MEP: 'Women must earn less'

Polish MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke is under fire for his sexist comments during a debate on gender pay gap. He could face sanctions.

4/3/2017- A Polish politician is facing substantial backlash for comments he made in the European Parliament this week -- unequivocal remarks that said women are inferior to men. While speaking in the European Union's lawmaking body Wednesday, MP Janusz Ryszard Korwin-Mikke defended the pay gap between working women and men. "Do you know how many women are in the first hundred [class] of chess players? I tell you -- no one," he said. "Of course, women must earn less than men. Because they are weaker, they are smaller, they are less intelligent. They must earn less. That's all," he continued before sitting down, smiling. Korwin-Mikke's remarks were met with audible gasps and looks of disgust in the Brussels, Belgium, chamber. "Well, according to what you're saying, and according to your theory, I wouldn't have the right to be here as a member of parliament," MP Iratxe Garcia-Perez, of Spain, said. "I know that you are very upset, and very concerned about the fact that we women can represent citizens on an equal footing with you."

Garcia-Perez, clearly irked, stood up and pointed her finger directly in Korwin-Mikke's direction during her reply. "I am here to defend all European women from men like you," she shot back. Greater attention was paid to the lawmaker's remarks on Thursday after footage of the comments was released. That afternoon, the embattled lawmaker made light of the controversy on his Facebook page. "Women are smarter than the average men. How do we know? Because I haven't seen a woman throw herself at a man because he has nice legs," he wrote, adding that women seem to "have a complex." An investigation has been opened to determine whether Korwin-Mikke violated parliamentary rules that require members to show mutual respect and refrain from "defamatory, racist or xenophobic language or behavior."

If the parliament concludes that rules were violated, Korwin-Mikke could be fined, suspended or disciplined, The Washington Post reported Friday. Wednesday wasn't the first time Korwin-Mikke has stirred controversy. His colorful political career includes a protest of high taxes in Poland, in which he ate his tax return in front of a government revenue office, and his giving a Nazi salute while shouting fascist rhetoric in the EU chamber in 2015.


Hungary Approves Plan To Detain Migrants And Refugees In Shipping Containers

Human rights groups have called the move a flagrant violation of international law.

8/3/2017- Hungary’s parliament approved measures on Tuesday to detain asylum seekers for the duration of their application process, and transfer refugees and migrants in the country to repurposed shipping containers for housing. Human rights groups have blasted the policy as illegal and inhumane, in what they argue is part of Hungary’s continued crackdown on refugees and migrants. These latest measures, they say, mark an escalation of the government’s already draconian measures to deter people from crossing into Hungary. “Plans to automatically detain some of the world’s most vulnerable people in shipping containers behind razor wire fences, sometimes for months on end, are beyond the pale,” Gauri Van Gulik, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Europe, said in a statement on Tuesday.

Amnesty claims that blanket detentions are in violation of international and EU laws, and such measures should instead be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. “Detention of asylum-seekers should always be a last measure and should not be applied arbitrarily and without judicial review and access to remedy. Children must never be detained solely on the grounds of their immigration status,” Amnesty stated. The U.N. refugee agency also voiced its opposition to Hungary’s plan, saying that it was “deeply concerned” about the new law. “In practice, it means that every asylum-seeker, including children, will be detained in shipping containers surrounded by high razor wire fence at the border for extended periods of time,” the agency said in a statement.

Hungarian parliament approved the plan by a vote of 138-6, with 22 abstentions. It calls for all current and future asylum seekers to be held in detention camps along the border with Serbia. Children traveling with parents, as well as all adult migrants regardless of gender and vulnerability, will be subject to the measures. The only exceptions are for unaccompanied minors below the age of 14. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban claimed at a ceremony for hundreds of new border guards on Tuesday that the forced detentions would keep borders safe, and said the country was “under siege” from immigration. Orban has made opposition to immigration a key part of his populist platform, appealing to ethno-nationalist sentiment and calling migration a “poison” for Hungary.

Hungary has long been antagonistic toward European Union asylum policy, and has repeatedly opposed EU attempts to mitigate the migration crisis through refugee resettlement plans. Hungary held a referendum in October of last year in which voters overwhelmingly opposed EU migrant quotas, but the vote was deemed invalid because of the extremely low turnout. In recent months, Orban has become even more adversarial toward the EU in both his actions and rhetoric. Orban met with Russian President Vladimir Putin early last month and denounced Western sanctions put on Russia. Weeks later, Hungary began construction on a second border fence to keep out migrants in mid-February, which added to the initial barrier it erected in 2015. 

Orban also made an inflammatory speech last week in which he told a crowd at the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry that “ethnic homogeneity” was key for economic success. “Too much mixing causes problems,” Orban claimed during the speech.
© The Huffington Post


Hungarian border guards 'taking selfies with beaten migrants'

Border fence being built as new law considered to strengthen powers against asylum seekers

4/3/2017- “When they beat us, they were laughing with each other. The policemen, when they beat us, they are taking selfies with us.” This account given by Shahid Khan, a Pakistani asylum seeker, is among countless reports of abuse by police guarding Hungary’s heavily reinforced borders. He said he was attacked before being photographed and then chased away using police dogs, adding: “They treat us like animals, and we are humans.” Humanitarian organisations say the treatment has become a feature of Hungary’s policy on refugees, with warnings from the United Nations falling on deaf ears in the country’s right-wing government. Farhad, a 34-year-old man from Iran, described how he was among around 30 refugees including women and children who crossed Hungary’s border fence before being surrounded by dozens of police.

Uniformed men ordered them to sit on the ground with their hands on their heads – then a two-hour attack began. “I haven’t even seen such beating in the movies,” Farhad said. “Five or six soldiers took us one by one to beat us. They tied our hands with plastic handcuffs on our backs. “They beat us with everything, with fists, kicks and batons. They deliberately gave us bad injuries. We asked why they are beating us but they just said: ‘Go back to Serbia’.” He also reported officers taking selfies on their mobile phones and laughing during the assault, when asylum seekers were sprayed with tear gas. Ehsan, a 28-year-old from Iran who was also part of the group, said they were eventually ordered to crawl through a hole made in Hungary’s barbed wire fence border. “I was the last in line to cross the fence back to Serbia – they let the dogs on me,” he added. “I fell to the ground trying to grab his collar and a police officer struck a blow to my face from the side.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) obtained a photograph showing Ehsan bleeding from an injury next to his eye, with his face covered in bruising that lasted more than a fortnight. Lydia Gall, the group's Balkans and Eastern Europe researcher, said it has received numerous reports of police taking selfies with abused migrants and filming them, compounding the beatings with humiliation. After a new law was implemented in July to allow refugees caught within five miles of the Hungarian border to be forced back into Serbia, she said a policy was introduced for police to film the operations. “They made people stand in front of a camera holding up a piece of paper listing that they had irregularly crossed into Hungary,” Ms Gall added. “Part of that statement on film would say police officers have behaved nicely and appropriately. “Once they stopped filming, a lot of migrants said the beatings would ensue so there would be no marking on the official video.”

She said the “staged” filming was allowing the Hungarian government to refuse to properly investigate the allegations, adding: “The the fact nothing is being done to stop it is completely unacceptable.” As extreme cold swept Europe at the start of 2017 and temperatures in Hungary plummeted to -20C, a new form of torment was reported. Refugees said border police would take their drinking water and pour it over them before abandoning them in the snow, sometimes taking coats, clothes and shoes. “They were dumping them at random points at the border in the middle of the night and exposing them to potential death by hypothermia,” Ms Gall said. “We had people showing up [in Serbia] completely naked.”

Hundreds of thousands of refugees have crossed into Hungary on their way from the shores of Greece to western Europe but the right-wing government has spared no expense to stop their journeys. Thousands of guards have been deployed to patrol the country’s 100-mile southern border with Serbia, where soldiers and prison inmates are expanding a barbed wire fence into an electrified 13ft barrier. Armed with heat sensors and cameras, it features loudspeakers blaring messages in English, Arabic and Farsi. “Attention, attention. I'm warning you that you are at the Hungarian border,” the messages say. “If you damage the fence, cross illegally, or attempt to cross, it’s counted to be a crime in Hungary. I’m warning you to hold back from committing this crime. You can submit your asylum application at the transit zone.” But the “transit zones” allow just a handful of migrants to cross each day at two designated border posts, leaving at least 7,000 people trapped in Serbia in dire conditions and increasing desperation.

The country’s right-wing government has dismissed criticism over its migration policies, approving a new draft law that would see refugees locked in border camps made of shipping containers while their cases are decided. Applications will be declared inadmissible for anyone who entered the Hungary from Serbia or a “safe third country”, while the appeal period will be cut to just three days and migrants may have to cover the costs of their own imprisonment. The new bill would also allow authorities to detain all adult asylum seekers in its territory and summarily return those refused to the Serbian border as part of “crisis” measures in place until September.

The European Commission opened infringement proceedings against Hungary in December 2015 but no progress in the case has been made public, while the UN Refugee Agency’s opposition to push-back operations has gone unanswered. “As long as there is this complete and utter silence it sends a really bad message to the police officers at the border because they know they can get away with it,” Ms Gall warned. “It’s all part and parcel of the Hungarian government’s policy of keeping people out or making their lives as miserable as possible.” The crackdown is intensifying despite a dramatic fall in the number of refugees journeying to Hungary after the EU-Turkey deal was implemented a year ago to prevent boat crossings to Greece. Viktor Orban, the anti-immigration Prime Minister, has dubbed migrants “poison” and claimed they are a threat to security and European culture that must be held back. “If we can’t do it nicely, we have to hold them back by force,” he said. “And we will do it.”

A spokesperson for the Hungarian government said: "The Government of Hungary utterly rejects allegations which are once more seeking to discredit personnel on duty at the border. From the beginning of the current migrant crisis, Hungary was one of the first Member States to enforce EU rules, and has been protecting the EU’s Schengen borders, stopping, registering and separating out genuine refugees from economic migrants. Hungarian police officers and soldiers are protecting the EU’s Schengen borders lawfully and in compliance with EU and Hungarian regulations. "The police are performing their duties lawfully, professionally and proportionately, and they place special emphasis on treating migrants humanely and with respect for their human dignity. Migrants on Hungary’s borders are not being harassed, and the significant numbers of unaccompanied minors who have been arriving are being provided with protection, health care and education. "Hungary treats those in genuine need humanely, and those waiting on its borders or on its territory receive fair treatment. Migrants are also expected to abide by EU and Hungarian laws, however.
© The Independent


Headlines 3 March, 2017

Sweden: Daniel Friberg, mining tycoon bankrolling the alt-right's global media empire

Daniel Friberg has sponsored websites, think tanks and publishing houses to spread white nationalist ideology.

3/3/2017- As hipsters partied in Stockholm's liberal Sodermalm district on Saturday (25 February) night, a secret venue was hosting a meeting for some of the leading figures of the alt-right white nationalist movement. Billed as the largest alt-right event in the world, the mood was triumphant, with 374 guests gathered to hear speakers celebrating the election of US president Donald Trump, and mark what they claim is an historic opportunity to spread their ideas and consolidate their influence. "I believe we have some momentum right now we should not waste, so need to step up our game and be more active," event organiser Daniel Friberg tells IBTimes UK over the telephone, and boasts about holding the event under the nose of leftists who he said had forced him to cancel four previous venues.

He says that at the meeting a "momentous" alliance was formed between the European "new right", a self-consciously scholarly white nationalist movement, and the US alt-right, the Trump-loving US provocateurs. "I believe it is a time to come together and bring these different qualities together under one single umbrella," he says. In his book The Real Right Returns he declares: "After more than a century of retreat, marginalisation and constant concessions to an ever more aggressive and demanding left, the true European right is returning with a vengeance." Friberg is virtually unknown in his native Sweden, but is regarded by experts at Searchlight anti-racism group as one of the most influential figures in the global far right. 

The well-spoken entrepreneur and mining executive has created websites, founded publishing houses and started think tanks that have become among the most important institutions in the movement. Friberg sees his project as one removed from the day-to-day drudgery of party politics and activism. He wants to effect a revolution at a deeper level – ideas, values, and culture – to overcome liberal taboos and reassert nationalist values. "There are a lot of parties doing a good job, and politicians, it has never really been appealing to me to get into party politics – it is a little too dirty – I prefer the world of ideas, it is more pure," he says.

Neo-Nazi past
In his youth, Friberg had his head shaved, hung out with members of neo-Nazi group the Swedish Resistance, and had several run-ins with the law, spending time in prison for crimes including weapons offences. In contrast with the clichéd image of the angry young man from a deprived background drawn to neo-Nazi subculture, Friberg is well-educated and comes from a middle-class, left-wing family, writes US musicologist Benjamin Teitelbaum in his book Lions of the North. Friberg claimed he was drawn to the far right after witnessing immigrant children targeting whites at a multicultural school where he was educated. His CV is that of a successful young European executive. He earned an MBA from Gothenburg University in 2006, working in finance and management consultancy before becoming CEO of Wiking Mineral, a precious metals mining company.

Since his early 20s Friberg has distanced himself from the thuggish image of neo-Nazi subculture, replacing boots and crew cut with expensive suits. He has devoted his efforts to detoxifying and revitilising far-right ideology, and spreading it among a young, educated and elite audience. He has adopted the Marxist concept of "metapolitics", which he defines as a "a war of social transformation, fought on the level of worldview, thought, and culture". He wants to oust the so-called "cultural Marxists" who he claims have infiltrated culture with left-wing ideology. "He wants to create a generation of educated, well-dressed, upstanding nationalists and leaders," says Teitelbaum, who knows Friberg personally. "It is about the view that you can't change politics at the polling booth, you have to change the culture, you have to have people who can write, speak and produce art and media to go out and change culture before you have a political movement. That is what he wanted to do."

Friberg's renewed bid to spread white nationalism comes with Sweden and much of Europe engaged in fierce debate about mass immigration and its consequences. Long a bastion of liberal values, Sweden has in recent years seen a surge in support for the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats, as immigration rose to record levels in 2013 and the country accepted hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers. Friberg has claimed in an interview that the Sweden Democrats can pave the way for a more radical position he calls identitarianism, which he argues is about defending the rights of whites to form their own communities and embrace their own culture. He insists that his is not a vision of an exclusively white Sweden and Europe.

"I'm not an absolutist in that regard. It is not part of our ideology to make all of our countries 100% white," he says. "I'm advocating for functioning societies – and as we have seen over the past few decades, that can't be multicultural. That doesn't mean we can't have a normal level of immigration – all European countries had a number of immigrants come to their countries before – this new concept of mass migration is harming our societies."

'Rebranding fascism'
For critics though, Friberg's identitarian project is simply an attempt to rebrand fascism for a new generation. "The new right is very much about the idea that Italian fascism or German National Socialism are not presentable as something new and radical now, they need rebranding, they need repackaging," says Jonathan Leman, from Sweden's anti-racism magazine Expo. "The key factors are anti-liberal democracy as we know it, and to create a homogenous Sweden and Europe which is white – and that is compatible with the views of neo-Nazis," he says. In previous interviews Friberg has expressed his belief in the key importance of ethnicity. "The identitarian point of view is centered around ethnicity rather than culture and underscores the evident link between culture and biology," he told Swedish far-right news site Fria Tider in 2013.

When pressed, Friberg says that he is not actually a so-called "cultural nationalist", who believes that people from any race can be integrated into Sweden, "because I do believe that ethnicity is important". He continues: "I don't believe in integration, I do believe in assimilation – that is how it has always worked." He goes on to claim he supports the right of Muslim women to wear headscarves in Sweden, highlighting the strange tension between his belief in homogenised societies, and his attempt to present a vision of a sanitised nationalism in which all traditions are respected.

Red Ice and anti-Semitism
Friberg has created a close-knit network, with publishing house Arktos disseminating ideas, think tank Motpol providing a forum where they are discussed, and a media network popularising them in slickly produced viral videos. Saturday's conference was livestreamed by Red Ice, a key member of Friberg's alt-right media network. The video and radio streaming service is geared to an audience of media-savvy millennials in the US and Europe. Its two hosts, Henrik Palmgren and Lena Lokteff, provide a heady mix of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and white nationalist ideology, alongside bizarre features on traditional Nordic crafts and cookery. When asked about about notorious Holocaust denier Michael Hoffman being interviewed on the channel, and of the presence of US alt-right video blogger Paul Ray Ramsey (aka Ramzpaul) at Saturday's event, who has questioned why one should feel sorrow for the victims of the Holocaust, Friberg pleads ignorance.

He says he does not get time to watch all Red Ice programmes, and was not aware of Ramsey's anti-Semitism. "I don't think the Holocaust has a special privileged place in this tragedy [of WWII]. The whole thing is awful, it was the worst thing that happened in Europe last century", he says, citing German and Ukrainian victims of Soviet violence. Friberg was also closely involved with setting up, a messaging board that attracted nationalists and far-right supporters from throughout Scandinavia, including Norwegian far-right mass killer Anders Breivik, who murdered 77 people, most of them children, in a series of attacks on 2 July 2011. Breivik claimed he was targeting "cultural Marxists" undermining white identity in the attack.

He claims that Breivik only logged into the site once and immediately informed the Swedish secret service when news of the atrocity broke. Friberg maintains that far-right ideology had nothing to do with the killings. "In every given society you have some insane people and it is wrong to blame an ideology for that unless that ideology explicitly promotes violence and terrorism. We have done exactly the opposite. I don't feel any guilt, in fact what we do may have had a positive impact," he argues. He goes on to claim that incidents such as the Breivik killings are something that only happens "once every 100 years", whereas Islamist killings are frequent. In fact, Sweden has been subjected to both Islamist plots and far-right violence in recent years, with 21-year-old Anton Lundin Pettersson murdering two teachers and a student in a racially motivated attack on a Trollhättan school in 2015, while four were injured in a neo-Nazi bomb attack on a refugee centre in Gothenburg in January.

Political mission
In early 2016, Friberg reportedly quit as Wiking Mineral CEO, a seeming declaration of his intent to devote himself to his political mission. He has in recent months published his book, created the website with notorious alt-right ideologue Richard Spencer, published key alt-right figures at his publishing house Arktos Media and organised conferences where European and US right-wing radicals appear side by side. Teitelbaum tells me that though the young Friberg is already a veteran of the white nationalist scene, having played a key role in its transformation, and is well-placed to supervise its renewed bid for power. "He's one of the few people in Sweden who grew up in the decade of the skinhead movement and made a career out of it, stayed afloat. I mean it destroyed the lives of so many people, that subculture. His is a noteworthy figure, he really is," he explains.
© The International Business Times - UK


European Parliament votes to end visa-free travel for Americans

The passing of the non-binding resolution comes after the US failed to agree visa-free travel for citizens of five EU countries

3/3/2017- It comes after the US failed to agree visa-free travel for citizens of five EU countries – Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania – as part of a reciprocity agreement. US citizens can normally travel to all countries in the bloc without a visa. The vote urges the revocation of the scheme within two months, meaning Americans will have to apply for extra documents for 12 months after the European Commission implements a “delegated act” to bring the change into effect. The Commission discovered three years ago that the US was not meeting its obligations under the reciprocity agreement but has not yet taken any legal action. The latest vote, prepared by the civil liberties committee and approved by a plenary session of parliament, gives the Commission two months to act before MEPs can consider action in the European Court of Justice.

Australia, Brunei, Japan and Canada were also failing in their obligations, but all four have lifted, or are soon to lift, any visa restrictions on travel for EU citizens. The Commission is legally obliged to act to suspend the visa waiver for Americans, but the European Parliament or the Council of the European Union have the chance to object to the “delegated act” it uses to do so. In December, MEPs pressed for the move in order to “encourage” Washington to play its part, according to a statement by the parliament. But Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos warned of “consequences”, including potential “retaliation” and a drop in visitor numbers precipitating substantial losses for the continent’s tourism industry.

Just days ago the Council said it would liberalise the visa regime for citizens of Georgia travelling into the EU. Georgians can now, subject to final approval of the regulation, stay in any EU country for 90 days in any period of 180 days without needing a visa. Carmelo Abela, Malta’s minister for national security, said: “This agreement will bring the people of Georgia and the EU closer together and will strengthen tourism and business ties. It follows the completion of the necessary reforms by Georgia, addressing document security, border management, migration and asylum.” Last month it was reported that the EU was considering the adoption of a US-style electronic travel permit scheme – a move that could create a new administrative hurdle for British tourists after Brexit.

Immigration minister Robert Goodwill told Parliament the EU was discussing the possibility of introducing a version of America’s Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA). Currently foreign travellers must pay a fee of $14 (£11) when they complete ESTA, an automated online system that determines their eligibility to travel to the US. “British people are now used to the US ESTA scheme and, therefore, we view with interest how the European scheme might develop and what similarities, and differences, there may be to the US scheme,” Mr Goodwill said. “This type of scheme is generally there to help enhance security. To get to know as much as possible about the people who are intending to travel. “It isn’t just flights, it could be people using ferries, or other border crossings into the European Union.” Alan Brown, an SNP member of the European Scrutiny Committee, pointed out that Leave advocates in the referendum campaign had said there would be no need for visa-like travel schemes after Brexit.
© The Independent


EU General Court unable to decide on legality of EU-Turkey migrant deal

2/3/2017- The EU’s top court refused to hear a challenge by three asylum seekers to the bloc’s deal with Turkey to stem the flow of migrants, saying it lacked the jurisdiction to hear the case. The three men — an Afghan and two Pakistanis — had contested the validity of the March 2016 accord in a bid to avoid being sent back to Turkey from Greece. The case, filed last April, argued the agreement was made between the European Council and Ankara, which violated the bloc’s rules on sealing international agreements. But the European Court of Justice on Tuesday ruled that the deal was made by leaders of European member states, which meant the court could not hear the case. “The court does not have jurisdiction to rule on the lawfulness of an international agreement concluded by the member states,” it said. Under the controversial deal, Ankara pledged to take back all illegal migrants landing in Greece in exchange for financial aid and eased EU visa rules for Turkish citizens.


European Parliament to cut broadcasts containing racism or hate speech

The European Parliament has taken an unusual step to crack down on racism and hate speech in its own house.

26/2/2017- Representatives have granted special powers to the president to axe live broadcasts of parliamentary debate in cases of racist speech or acts, and the ability to purge any offending video or audio material afterwards. However, the rules on what is considered offensive are not clear and there are concerns about manipulation and censorship. "This undermines the reliability of the Parliament's archives at a moment where the suspicion of 'fake news' and manipulation threatens the credibility of the media and the politicians," said Tom Weingaertner, president of the International Press Association. After Britain's decision to leave the European Union, the rising popularity of anti-immigrant candidates such as Geert Wilders in the Netherlands or far-right Marine Le Pen in France is worrying Europe's political mainstream. Ms Le Pen, who is running for the French presidency this spring, has promised to follow Britain's lead.

At the European Parliament, where elections are due in 2019, many say the need for action against hate speech and strong sanctions for offenders is overdue. The assembly - with two seats, in the Belgian capital of Brussels and Strasbourg in France - is often the stage for political and sometimes nationalist theatre. Beyond routine shouting matches, members occasionally wear T-shirts with slogans or unfurl banners. Flags adorn some members' desks. "There have been a growing number of cases of politicians saying things that are beyond the pale of normal parliamentary discussion and debate," said British MEP Richard Corbett, who chaperoned the new rule through the assembly. "What if this becames not isolated incidents, but specific, where people could say: 'Hey, this is a fantastic platform. It's broad, it's live-streamed. It can be recorded and repeated. Let's use it for something more vociferous, more spectacular'," he said.

In a nutshell, rule 165 of the parliament's rules of procedure allows the chair of debates to halt the live broadcast "in the case of defamatory, racist or xenophobic language or behavior by a member". The maximum fine for offenders would be around 9,000 euro (£7,600). Under the rule, not made public by the assembly and first reported by Spain's La Vanguardia paper, offending material could be "deleted from the audiovisual record of proceedings". That means citizens would never know about it unless reporters were in the room. Mr Weingaertner said the IPA was not consulted on that. A technical note outlines a procedure for manually cutting off the video feed, stopping transmission on in-house TV monitors and breaking the satellite link to halt broadcast to the outside world. A tape in four languages would be kept running to serve as a legal record during the blackout. A more effective and permanent system was being sought.

It is also technically possible to introduce a time delay so broadcasts appear a few seconds later. This means they could be interrupted before offending material is aired. But the system is unwieldy. Members have the right to speak in any of the European Union's 24 official languages. An offending act could be over before the assembly's president Antonio Tajani has a chance to hit the kill switch. Misunderstandings and abuses could crop up. During a debate in December, Gerolf Annemans, from Belgium's Flemish independence party Vlaams Belang, expressed concern about the rule. He said it "can be abused by those who have hysterical reactions to things that they qualify as racist, xenophobic, when people are just expressing politically incorrect views".

Even those involved in the move acknowledge it is a sensitive issue. Helmut Scholz, from Germany's left-wing Die Linke party, said EU lawmakers are elected - indeed the EU parliament is the bloc's only popularly elected institution - and must be able to express their views about how Europe should work. "You can't limit or deny this right," he said. He worries about fake news too, but of the kind made from selective extracts of debates. "If you are following the whole debate that is one thing, but if you have certain media who are taking out individual sentences you could falsify the whole issue," he said. Still, Nazi rallying cries and racist obscenities are relatively rare but not unheard of. "We need an instrument against that, to take it out of the record, to stop distribution of such slogans, such ideas," Mr Scholz said.
© The Associated Press


Finland: Police move to shut down neo-Nazi Finnish Resistance Movement

The National Police Board has appealed to the Pirkanmaa District Court to dissolve the Finnish branch of the Nordic Resistance Movement. The police board describes the group as "violent and openly racist".

2/3/2017- Finland's National Police Board has filed suit against the ultra-nationalist Nordic Resistance Movement's Finnish chapter. The police board says it has appealed to the Pirkanmaa District Court for the shut-down of the neo-Nazi organisation. "We consider the Nordic Resistance Movement's activities to be intrinsically unlawful and contrary to accepted principles. We consider this to be grounds for proposing the dissolution of the group," Police Commissioner Seppo Kolehmainen said back in December. The Nordic Resistance Movement is a multinational conglomeration whose agenda includes the creation of a national socialist state spanning the Nordic countries. The neo-Nazi group is openly racist, police say. "There is no place for violent and openly racist groups in Finnish society," Kolehmainen said last December. One of the founders of the Finnish branch of the Nordic Resistance Movement, Jesse Torniainen, was sentenced to two years in prison for aggravated assault in December, following a sequence of events at Helsinki Central Railway Station that lead to a man's death. That case is moving on to the Court of Appeal at the prosecutor's request.
© YLE News.


Hungary building second fence to stem migrant flow

1/3/2017- Hungary has started to build a new fence along its southern boundary with Serbia. A 10 kilometer (6.2 mile) experimental stretch of the second fence has already been built near the first one. Some of it is equipped with cameras, motion and heat sensors and other surveillance tools. On March 1, rolls of fence and barbed wire could be seen laid out for further construction. Hungary built a barrier along the length of its borders with Serbia and Croatia in 2015. The government says the second fence, costing over 120 million euros, is needed because it expects another surge of migrants this year. About 7,000 migrants have been stranded in Serbia looking for ways to reach western Europe. Many have tried several times to cross to Hungary or Croatia.


Hungary: Budapest Roma and Jews use alternative JCC to fight right-wing populism

Although she lives in the undisputed nightlife capital of Central Europe, Andi Angelip knows of only a handful of bars here where she is truly comfortable bringing a date.

27/2/2017- Angelip, a 19-year-old student and activist for lesbian and gay rights, said she avoids “rainbow” establishments that cater only to homosexuals. Yet in a country where violent far-right activists regularly intimidate gays and lesbians, she also avoids romantic situations in mainstream clubs. “It’s not so comfortable to be a minority in a country whose politicians preach for discrimination on a daily basis,” she told JTA last month. Two years ago, Angelip found at least one place where she does feel comfortable: an avant-garde Jewish community center called Aurora. Since its reopening in 2014 in a poor neighborhood of Budapest, it has become one of the city’s hippest coffee bars – and a major hub for social and opposition activists fighting the policies of Hungary’s right-wing government. “I come here because it’s just a cool place, but also because I feel safe and comfortable here, like I belong,” said Angelip, who is not a part of Hungary’s Jewish population of approximately 100,000.

She is not the only minority rights activist who regards Aurora, a 6,500-square-foot center located in a small building in the crime-stricken 8th District, as a sanctuary from reality in Hungary. Critics of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government here say it is mainstreaming hate crime and Holocaust revisionism, as well as promoting censorship of the press. Marom, the Jewish association that runs and owns Aurora as part of its outreach mission to young unaffiliated Hungarian Jews, provides office space and facilities to about a dozen non-Jewish activist groups committed to fighting these perceived trends. They include the Roma Press Center, Budapest Pride, the Migszol refugee advocacy group and the Zold Pok agency for social activism. While Angelip and a female friend chatted over beer on a recent Monday in the Aurora bar – a cozy space with 1970s décor and music by the French protest singer Manu Chao — Marom’s staff of about 12 met in their upstairs office to review last year’s activities, including the group’s weekly Shabbat services in their small egalitarian synagogue and celebrations of Jewish holidays.

In addition to religious services, Marom also organizes educational activities in schools about the Holocaust, programs for street children, and cultural events like film screenings and experimental music concerts. It also hosts political discussions, such as a sold-out Jan. 30 debate on populism featuring László Majtényi, an outspoken critic of Orban. “We work with non-affiliated Jews who would never go to a synagogue or even the Balint Center,” said Adam Schoenberger, the president of Marom, referring to the Jewish community center in central Budapest funded by the Joint Distribution Committee. “So we try to sneak Judaism into our programming, just to give them a taste and whet their appetite: a klezmer concert here, a Hanukkah candle lighting there.” As Schoenberger talks to a visitor, in an adjacent room three activists from the Roma Press Center hammer out a strategy for covering the landmark trial at the European Court of Human Rights on the role of Hungarian police in allowing hundreds of rioters in 2012 to attack the home of a Roma family in the village of Devecser.

The court’s Feb. 8 ruling against the police – one of hundreds of hate crimes against Roma, or gypsies, recorded annually in Hungary – was hailed by Amnesty International as a “drop of hope in a sea of fear.” “Not only is the far right party, Jobbik, the third largest in parliament, but the ruling Fidesz party has drifter further and further in its negative attitudes towards Roma,” the group said. Against this backdrop, and amid a government-led crackdown on independent media, the Roma Press Center is “the only outlet that will bring the news about assaults in the countryside to the few news portals that are still not muzzled by the government,” Schoenberger said. “We find it very important that they be a part of Aurora.”

The press center, a nongovernment organization with a shoestring budget, receives a significant discount on rent from Marom. The cooperation with Marom revolutionized the work of the Roma center, which was founded in 1995, according to the organization’s president, Szilvia Suri. “We were renting office space in the center before we came here,” she said. “It was more expensive but more crucially, we were isolated there, whereas at Aurora we are better connected not only to the other organizations working here, but to the many Roma people who live in the 8th District.” The Jewish-Roma partnership at Aurora is unusual in a country where the two minorities rarely act in unison, according to Eszter Hajdu, a Hungarian filmmaker who has studied that relationship.

“While both groups encounter some xenophobia, the Roma are far more vulnerable,” Hajdu said. And while Jewish groups at times participate in educational and charitable activities to assist Roma, “I can’t say the Jewish community is the first one to offer help” to the other minority, she added. She also said that part of the problem are negative biases each group holds of the other in Hungary. The discounts that Marom offered its partner groups last year on using Aurora facilities and utilities amounted to $25,000 — a substantial sum in a country where the average monthly salary is about half that of the United States. Marom generates 90 percent of its annual budget and receives the rest from donations by JDC, the UJA-Federation of New York, Masorti Olami and others.

Building an alliance of liberal groups would be unremarkable for a Jewish organization in most other Western countries. But in Hungary, it places Aurora squarely at the center of opposition to a government-led campaign to root out foreign-funded grassroots organizations that do not conform to the party line, and to significantly limit the work of nongovernmental groups to local funding only. Officials from Orban’s Fidesz party have already vowed to root out the network of NGOs that receive funding from the liberal Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros, who is Jewish, and have limited the work of other groups with funding from Norway. Now, most other local groups with a progressive agenda are bracing for intervention by the government.

Marom has experience with such intervention. In 2014, Budapest officials kicked the group out of its former site in the city center on a building safety pretext. The eviction notice came two days after opposition activists used the space to plan an anti-government sit-in. It was one of several opposition activities hosted by Marom in recent years, including in the 2013 student protests. Marom’s previous site was also the birthplace that year of the LMP Green party. Mazsihisz, the umbrella group of Hungarian Jewish communities, has objected in recent years to perceived attempts by the government to whitewash Hungarian authorities’ complicity in the Holocaust, including by celebrating known anti-Semites. But Mazsihisz has remained nonpartisan. And with good reason, according to Slomó Köves, a Chabad rabbi and leader of the local EMIH Jewish group, which is not part of Mazsihisz.

The government funds Jewish community life with hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, supports Israel in international forums and protects religious freedoms, Koves said. And while “it can be argued that it needs to be firmer on anti-Semitism, progress is being made there, too.” Ultimately, he argued, Hungarian Jews are safer and more secure about their future than their brethren in France. But for Marom, which began in 1998 as an apolitical group, the penchant for opposition activism is inescapable, according to Schoenberger. This is partly because “most unaffiliated Jews in Hungary seem to be liberal,” he said. But ultimately, “our opposition activism owes to the government’s war on core Jewish values of tikkun olam,” a Jewish concept of “repairing the world” and helping the needy, Schoenberger said. “We did not choose to become political,” he added. “But when the government is targeting the poor, the different, the foreign – then we have no choice.”
© JTA News.


Czech anti-Islam group to promote Zeman's presidential candidacy

27/2/2017- The Bloc Against Islam group will start collecting signatures supporting the candidature of incumbent President Milos Zeman in the Czech direct presidential election due next year on March 10 when Zeman is to announce whether he will be defending his post, the group said yesterday. In the press release, the Bloc writes that it considers Zeman the only person who defends the country against illegal migration and the Islamisation of Europe. The Bloc Against Islam was founded by anti-Islam activist Martin Konvicka, but the opposition movement dissolved itself due to internal disputes in May 2016. However, some of its members later established the Bloc Against Islam group, a marginal grouping.

To be allowed to run for Czech president, politicians must win the signatures of at least of 50,000 people or those of 20 lower house deputies or 10 senators for their candidature. The presidential election is likely to be held in January 2018. Candidates need to be nominated by mid-November. Zeman, 72, has been president since March 2013 and his mandate will expire in March 2018. He is widely expected to officially announce his second candidature next week. If running, Zeman would be the clear favourite of the election now as no other experienced top politician has been running for the post so far. Sciences Academy chairman Jiri Drahos, former diplomat Petr Kolar and MEP Jiri Pospisil are considering their candidature. Multi-millionaire Michal Horacek and performer Milan Kohout officially announced their plan to run for president.
© The Prague Daily Monitor


Croatia far-right leader arrested after Zagreb march

Police arrested a Croatian far-right party leader on Sunday after dozens of supporters marched through the capital Zagreb chanting pro-Nazi slogans.

27/2/2017- Supporters of the far-right A-HSP party, which has no presence in parliament, marched through downtown Zagreb before gathering at the main Ban Jelacic square. There they chanted 'Za dom spremni' ('For the Homeland ready'), the slogan used by Croatia's World War II pro-Nazi regime, and took an oath "to the homeland." The Ustasha regime persecuted and killed hundreds of thousands of Jews, Serbs, Roma and anti-fascist Croatians. The participants of Sunday's march, who were dressed in black, waved a US and a Croatian flag, as well as the flag of the German far-right NPD party. They also voiced support for US President Donald Trump.

Police said they arrested a 53-year-old man, whom local media identified as party leader Drazen Keleminec. A police statement said the suspect was held for "violating public order" and that a probe was ongoing. The government strongly condemned the far-right gathering and said in a statement it opposed "all forms of hate speech, intolerance and discrimination." It also slammed anti-Serb posters which have recently appeared in the eastern town of Vukovar, labelling them "offensive and shameful." The posters, put up at Vukovar bus stations Friday, featured a picture of a tree with bodies hanging from it with the caption "'Serbian family tree" written in English. Police on Sunday also arrested a 19-year-old man suspected of putting up the offending posters.

Relations with ethnic Serbs, who are Croatia's largest minority, remain fragile since the 1990s war between Zagreb and Serb rebels. Conservative Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, who came to power after a snap election in October, has pledged to move away from extremism. The previous centre-right government was accused by critics of turning a blind eye to a far-right surge in the country, a European Union member, including nostalgia for a pro-Nazi past. But critics say the current administration has not done enough to move away from its predecessor's policies, thus encouraging extremists. Earlier this month unknown attackers released tear gas in a Zagreb nightclub which was hosting a gay party. Croatian Jews boycotted an official ceremony on International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, accusing authorities of downplaying the Ustasha crimes.


Spain: Anti-trans bus banned by authorities

An anti-trans bus campaign has been pulled off the streets by Spanish authorities, who said it could incite hatred.

1/3/2017- The side of the orange-and-white bus is emblazoned with the message: “Boys have penises, girls have vulvas. Do not be fooled.” Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena said on Wednesday that police stopped the bus returning to the Spanish capital’s streets in order to prevent a hate crime, according to the Associated Press. The adverts were launched by Hazte Oir (Make Yourself Heard), a Catholic organisation which also has a history of anti-abortion protests, against campaigns to allow children to legally change their gender. Campaigns to raise awareness of issues faced by trans children in Spain have seen one group spread the message: “There are girls with penises and boys with vulvas. It’s as simple as that.” Plans had been drawn up for the bus to visit seven other Spanish cities before this development.

Ignacio Arsuaga, president of Hazte Oir, wrote on Twitter that impounding the bus was “illegal,” adding that this was the result of a “totalitarian LGTB [sic]” approach which was “agreed with a totalitarian party by a totalitarian president.” The Equality spokeswoman for the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, Angeles Alvarez, branded the bus tour “a hate campaign based on intolerance”, reported Spain’s El Pais newspaper. The Mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, warned she would not tolerate the bus entering her city, writing on Twitter: “In Barcelona there is no place for LGBT-phobic buses. We want our children to grow in freedom and without hatred.”
© The Pink News


Italy: Hundreds rescued in Mediterranean as migrant arrivals outpace 2016

3/3/2017- Rescuers plucked around 900 migrants from boats in the Mediterranean on Friday while hundreds more were brought to Sicily, as Italian figures showed far more people are braving the crossing from North Africa this year than last. A Norwegian ship working for European Union border agency Frontex and a vessel from aid group SOS Mediterranee rescued migrants packed into four large rubber boats and six smaller vessels on Friday, Italy's coastguard said in a statement. Meanwhile more than 800 people from African countries including Eritrea and Somalia, who were rescued on Thursday, were brought to the port of Augusta in southeastern Sicily. "These people had a very difficult journey," Save the Children spokeswoman Giovanna Di Benedetto said at the port. "Many of the minors are unaccompanied, including small children. Some of them are very small indeed." Since the beginning of the year, 14,319 migrants have been brought to Italy, according to the Interior Ministry. That compares with 9,101 in the same period of 2016, a year in which a record 181,000 arrivals were recorded.
© Reuters


Italian court recognises gay parents in landmark ruling

1/3/2017- An Italian court has ruled for the first time that two gay partners should be legally recognised as the fathers of two surrogate children. In a landmark ruling, the Court of Appeal in the northern city of Trento decided that both men can be officially named as the father - not just the parent who is biologically related. The children, now aged seven, were born to a surrogate mother in Canada through artificial insemination and neither they nor their fathers have been identified. In their decision, the judges said in Italy parental relationships should not be determined only by the biological link. "On the contrary, one must consider the importance of parental responsibility, which is manifested in the conscious decision to raise and care for the child,” they said. Details of the decision were published on Tuesday on Article 29, a website that refers to an article regarding family in the Italian Constitution.

It said the decision made on February 23 had "great significance", as it is the first time an Italian court has ruled that a child has two fathers, while also recognising the need to safeguard the needs of the child. “This is a recognition of full parenthood, in other words, not adoption,” said the couple’s lawyer, Alexander Schuster. “It has recognised for the first time a foreign provision that gives the second father the status of a parent.” The ruling was immediately hailed as an important precedent by gay activists and support groups. “In the absence of clear laws we hope now that all Italian courts follow the same path,” said Marilena Grassadonia, president of gay parents’ group, Famiglie Arcobaleno (rainbow families). “It is the only way that we can safeguard our children.” Italian law currently prevents couples from using a surrogate mother, and in theory, anyone caught entering into a surrogacy arrangement faces up to two years in prison and a fine of up to a million euros.

Two years ago, a child was removed from parents who had paid a surrogate mother in Ukraine. The couple were charged with fraud and the child put up for adoption. In 2016, during debate over Italy's same-sex unions bill, the current foreign minister, Angelino Alfano, sparked outrage when he said that surrogacy should be treated as a “sex crime”. The Italian parliament approved civil unions between homosexuals last May despite fierce resistance from the Catholic Church and conservative politicians.
© The Telegraph


Norway court decides on Breivik’s ‘inhumane’ isolation

Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik has not been treated "inhumanely" by being held in isolation in prison, an Oslo appeals court ruled on Wednesday, overturning a lower court ruling.

1/3/2017- "Breivik is not, and has not, been subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment," the appeals court wrote in its verdict. The 38-year-old right-wing extremist, who killed 77 people in 2011, will appeal against the verdict to Norway's highest court, the Supreme Court, his lawyer Oystein Storrvik announced immediately after the verdict was published. In April 2016, an Oslo district court stunned the survivors and families of the victims when it found the Norwegian state guilty of treating Breivik "inhumanely" and in a "degrading" fashion, in breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The lower court judge noted in particular Breivik's lengthy isolation regime. He has been held apart from other inmates since his arrest on the day of the attacks, and his lawyers argued that has been detrimental to his mental health. The state appealed against that ruling and on Wednesday it won its case. "There are no clear indications that Breivik has been subjected to isolation damage during his prison sentence," the appeals court found.

In July 2011 Breivik, disguised as a police officer, tracked and gunned down 69 people, most of them teenagers, at a Labour Party youth camp on the island of Utoya, shortly after killing eight people in a bombing outside a government building in Oslo. The appeals court also upheld the lower court's ruling that Breivik's right to privacy, as guaranteed by Article 8 of the Convention, had not been violated. He had argued the strict controls on his correspondence with the outside world breached his rights.


Swedish asylum shelter in Vanersborg hit by blaze

Up to 20 people have been hurt in a fire at a shelter for asylum seekers in Sweden, officials say.

26/2/2017- Two residents were badly injured jumping from windows of the building in Vanersborg, about 80km (50 miles) north of Gothenburg. The cause of the fire is unknown though police have opened an arson inquiry. Sweden is still debating controversial comments last week by US President Donald Trump on crimes related to its immigration policies. The fire broke out on the third floor of one of the buildings at the Restad Farm shelter shortly after 04:00 local time (03:00 GMT). Most of those hurt in the fire suffered minor injuries or smoke inhalation but two were taken to hospital. The fire was quickly extinguished and the building cordoned off as an investigation got under way. Figures from May 2016 said about 1,200 people were living in the accommodation. Some 160 people lived in the affected building, the Goteborgs-Posten reported, and they were evacuated to a local gym.

Fox segment
On 18 February, President Trump referred to Sweden in a speech on immigration problems, baffling Swedes about a non-existent incident. He suggested Sweden could face the kind of terrorist attacks that have hit France, Belgium and Germany, saying: "You look at what's happening in Germany, you look at what's happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this. Sweden. They took in large numbers. They're having problems like they never thought possible." He later tweeted that his statement "was in reference to a story that was broadcast on FoxNews concerning immigrants & Sweden". Some people suggested Mr Trump might have been referring to a clip aired on Fox News on the night before of a documentary about alleged violence committed by refugees in Sweden. Sweden, with a population of about 9.5 million, saw a sharp increase in asylum seekers in 2015, with more than 162,000 people claiming asylum. With the influx, tensions also rose with some isolated attacks on immigrants, as well as pro- and anti-migrant demonstrations. There have been no terror attacks in Sweden since the country's open-door policy on migration began in 2013.
© BBC News


France: When will France admit that police racism is systemic? (opinion)

Through hashtag activism French society is waking up to police brutality towards minorities – but addressing the impunity the force enjoys is another question 
By Rokhaya Diallo

2/3/2017-  “Black lives matter” was the slogan chanted last July at a demonstration against police violence in Paris. While the world’s eyes were on the US, where two black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, had been killed by white police officers, thousands gathered in the French capital to protest about the death of Adama Traoré, a 24-year-old Frenchman who suffocated after being arrested by gendarmes during an identity check. In recent weeks, another young man from a Paris banlieue has made the headlines. It’s alleged that on 2 February in Aulnay-sous-Bois, Théo Luhaka, 22, attempted to intervene when a friend of his was the victim of a violent identity check. Officers allegedly punched and spat at him, subjected him to racist insults and pushed a baton into his rectum. Despite his condition and the fact that he had committed no crime, Luhaka was taken to the police station. But he woke up in a hospital, where a doctor discovered a 10cm-long wound in his rectum and gave him 60 days’ sick leave.

It feels as if French society is suddenly discovering the banal cruelty of police brutality, although such allegations come as no surprise to those who live in the country’s poorer neighbourhoods. From Rodney King to Michael Brown, victims of racism by American police appear regularly in French media. But similar events in France are not given much coverage – and when they are, the racial aspect isn’t mentioned. Social networks, however, are challenging this. Hashtag activism has proclaimed what the media has struggled to make obvious: Traoré and Luhaka are black. Studies by the NGO Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture show that each year in France 10 to 15 people die following police action. Typically these are young men of black or north African origin, living in disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

The anthropologist Didier Fassin has revealed the gulf between the police and citizens of poor neighbourhoods: 80% of police officers are from rural areas or provincial towns, where the socio-ethnic makeup is radically different. According to the Défenseur des Droits (Defender of Rights, responsible for protecting citizens from official discrimination), young men perceived as Arab or black are 20 times more likely to have their identities checked. Abusive identity checks feel like a permanent injustice and are often what sets off unrest. After the Luhaka scandal, several demonstrations ended in violence. At a rally outside the court in Bobigny and at high school blockades in Paris, the initial calm gave way to rage reminiscent of the protests in Ferguson in the US.

The far right is seizing the opportunity to score points in the presidential campaign. The Front National launched a petition to support the police and its leader, Marine Le Pen, has refused to condemn police behaviour. President François Hollande visited Luhaka in hospital, probably in an attempt to prevent poorer neighbourhoods being set ablaze. The threat of unrest looms large, with memories of the 2005 riots not far away. Zyed Benna and Bouna Traoré, two teenagers who had done nothing wrong, were chased by police officers, hid in an electrical substation and were electrocuted. An unprecedented wave of unrest shook France for three weeks. In 2016 the UN committee against torture expressed its concern about “allegations of excessive use of force by the police and the gendarmerie, which has in some instances led to serious injuries or death”. In 1999 the so-called country of human rights was convicted of torture after police subjected a young man of north African heritage to a “particularly cruel and serious” assault.

But these condemnations have not led to a reassessment of police practices, and in most cases impunity remains the rule. Ultimately, there is a deep-rooted problem that plagues France’s police forces: systemic racism that is neither recognised nor addressed.
© Comment is free - Guardian


French court upholds Jean-Marie Le Pen's fine for anti-Roma remarks

A French appeals court has upheld an earlier guilty verdict over racist remarks by National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen. At a 2013 rally, he described Roma as having a 'foul-smelling presence' in Nice.

27/2/2017- The court of appeal in the southern French commune of Aix-en-Provence ruled on Monday that National Front (FN) founder and former-leader Jean-Marie Le Pen should pay a 5,000-euro ($5,300) fine, levied 10 months ago over his depiction of Roma people as "irritating" and "smelly." Judges agreed that the 88-year-old, who now holds the post of honorary president of the far-right party, was guilty of racism and provocation to hatred after he told a public meeting in the city of Nice that "several hundred Roma in this town are a foul-smelling presence." The latest court ruling follows the European Parliament's decision last October to strip Le Pen of immunity to allow another French trial to proceed, where the life-long politician is accused of anti-Semitism.

Xenophobic remarks
Le Pen, who handed the party's leadership to his daughter Marine six years ago, was originally found guilty by a court in Nice last April over the comments about Roma, made in 2013. He had also warned that because the EU was opening up the right of free movement to Romanian citizens, the French city was likely to see 50,000 nomadic newcomers imminently. During campaign rallies elsewhere in the country, he had also told supporters that the Roma people had a propensity to steal. Three groups including "SOS Racisme" and "The League of Human Rights" launched legal actions and are set to receive several thousand euros in damages following the failed appeal, in addition to the fine. Le Pen is no stranger to divisive rhetoric. He has been found guilty on at least eight occasions for racist or inflammatory remarks since the early 1990s, including holocaust denial. After reiterating in 2015 an earlier suggestion that the Nazi gas chambers were a "detail" in World War II history, he was expelled from the National Front, a decision he fought against and won in court. Subsequently, he continued to hold the title honorary president.

History repeats itself
In 2002, Le Pen's popularity gave the French political establishment a scare when he won enough votes to qualify for the second round of the presidential election. Although, he lost the run-off to incumbent Jacques Chirac, the party's popularity has remained strong ever since. His daughter Marine, who has led the National Front since 2011, has sought to distance the party from her father's most controversial comments. But similarly, on an anti-immigration, anti-EU ticket, she is predicted to secure enough support in this year's presidential election first round to make it to the run-off vote in May. However, two opinion polls on Sunday showed she would lose to centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron in the second round. A poll by Odoxa/Dentsu-Consulting showed 39-year-old Macron, a former economy minister in Francois Hollande's government, would beat Le Pen in the runoff with 61 percent of the vote, versus 39 percent for her. Another poll by Figaro/LCI showed Macron winning the runoff by 58 percent to 42 percent for Le Pen.
© The Deutsche Welle*


French historian Henry Rousso nearly deported from US

A French historian on his way to a conference in Texas was detained for 10 hours by US border officials and threatened with deportation.

26/2/2017- Officials at Texas A&M University said Henry Rousso was going to be returned to Paris as an illegal alien "due to a visa misunderstanding". The university stopped the deportation with help from a law professor, local news website The Eagle reported. President Donald Trump has pledged to tighten US border controls. "I have been detained 10 hours at Houston International Airport about to be deported," Mr Rousso, 62, confirmed in a tweet on Saturday. "The officer who arrested me was 'inexperienced'," he added. The Egyptian-born Jewish scholar, a senior researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research, is a specialist on French World War Two history.

Texas A&M University had announced to the conference on Friday that Mr Rousso had been detained upon arriving at Houston airport on Wednesday. Senior official Richard Golsan said there had been a misunderstanding regarding the parameters of his visa, The Eagle reported. "When he called me with this news two nights ago, he was waiting for customs officials to send him back to Paris as an illegal alien on the first flight out," Mr Golsan told the meeting. He said the university enlisted the help of law school professor and immigrant rights expert Fatma Marouf. "Due to her prompt and timely intervention, Rousso was released," Mr Golsan said.

Ms Marouf described the behaviour of customs officials as an "extreme response". "It seems like there's much more rigidity and rigour in enforcing these immigration requirements and the technicalities of every visa," she said, quoted by The Eagle. Mr Rousso went on to attend the conference and thanked his supporters in a post on Twitter. "Thank you so much for your reactions. My situation was nothing compared to some of the people I saw who couldn't be defended as I was," he said. Last month, President Trump issued an executive order imposing a temporary entry ban for citizens of seven Muslim majority countries, although the list did not include Egypt. The ban was later halted by a US federal court.
© BBC News


Germany: Police take on Islamophobic trolls after car attack in Heidelberg

Twitter trolls fabricate refugee connection after German driver kills pedestrian

1/3/2017- Minutes after the attack on Saturday afternoon, the trolling began. A 35-year-old man driving a rented car crashed into pedestrians in the southern German university city of Heidelberg, killing a 73-year-old passerby. Leaving two others injured at the scene, the driver bolted from the car, wielding a knife. He was soon cornered by police, shot in the stomach and taken into custody. As the perpetrator underwent an emergency operation and police worked to establish his identity, the trolls were already on the case. “According to friends at the police, the shot perpetrator from Heidelberg is a so-called #refugee,” tweeted one. Local police shot back on Twitter immediately: “Nope, he’s not.”
Another Twitter troll called “ludwig felsenkiefer” demanded to know about the perpetrator’s appearance, writing: “Tell the full truth or shut your mouth.” To which the police replied: “Forgotten your childhood manners or never had any?” All evening, as the investigation continued, so did the trolling. One troll went to the trouble of copying the official press release from the police website, adding a new line about the perpetrator “shouting in Arabic”. After uploading a screenshot of this version, with the fictitious additions highlighted, the troll declared this the “proof” of a cover-up. By 9pm on Saturday, the avalanche of tweets about a supposed Islamist perpetrator continued, including one from an account called “Brexit Means Brexit”, reading in English: “he f**k German. He’s a f**king Muslim. F**k the lot of them out of the West.” To which local police intervened in English: “WTF are you talking about?”

German national
Even after the identity of the car’s driver emerged – he was a 35-year-old German national – the trolling continued. One conceded that the perpetrator was a German, adding: “with immigrants one would have kept that quiet for months”. Again the police intervened: “No, ‘one’ wouldn’t have, at least not us.” And later: “For once and for all: Suspected perpetrator German WITHOUT migration background.” Police spokesman Norbert Schätzle said the troll army had caused frustration but also amusement among social-media staff. Asked about the rather direct response to “Brexit Means Brexit”, Mr Schätzle cited positive feedback. “Some things can’t be answered with political correctness or police correctness,” he told the Süddeutsche Zeitung, announcing plans to examine all tweets from the evening, with a view to pressing charges against the problematic posters. The 35-year-old driver, shot in the stomach, is recovering in a Heidelberg prison hospital. Two injured passersby were treated at the scene.

Attacks on refugees
While German police battle online trolls spreading news of fictional Islamist attacks, the real world poses a real threat to asylum seekers in Germany. Official statistics for 2016 recorded 3,533 attacks on refugees or refugee accommodation last year, averaging almost 10 attacks a day. Amid a social-media buzz about reports of asylum seeker attacks on German women, some real federal interior ministry figures show that 560 asylum seekers, including 43 children, were injured in attacks last year. In addition, some 217 aid-agency workers and volunteers were also attacked. The figures, though preliminary, show a slight reduction in absolute terms on the number of attacks in 2015, when 1,031 attacks were carried out. However, almost 900,000 people filed for asylum in Germany in 2015, compared with about 200,000 last year. In the last quarter of 2016 alone, police recorded 525 attacks nationally on asylum seekers or their accommodation. “These attacks are almost 10 a day,” said Ulla Jelpke, interior spokeswoman for the opposition Left Party. “Does there have to be deaths before right-wing violence is viewed as a central problem of domestic security?”
© The Irish Times.


UN experts accuse Germany of 'structural racism'

In Germany, people of African descent experience racism and discrimination on a daily basis, UN experts found. The UN is calling on the German government to take appropriate action.

28/2/2017- Flying back from a holiday in Spain, Oumar Diallo's had a disagreeable experience at a Berlin airport. "I was the only black on board. All passengers were German. I was the only one who was stopped and checked by the police," Diallo told DW. Diallo is from Guinea. He has been living in Berlin for more than 20 years. At the airport, police officers told him that the check had nothing to do with the color of his skin. But Diallo's experience is not uncommon. The United Nation's Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent is "very concerned" about the situation of people of African descent in Germany, chairman Ricardo Sunga said. He was speaking at the end of a week-long fact-finding visit to Germany. According to Sunga, black people are routinely discriminated against. They are the victims of racism, prejudice and hate crimes, Sunga said while presenting the commission's preliminary report. "They fear for their safety and avoid certain places, as they will be attacked. They are subjected to racial discrimination by their classmates, teachers, workmates and the structural racism by the government and criminal justice system," Sunga said.

Commission demands abolition of 'racial profiling'
Racial profiling is one example of structural racism mentioned by the working group. It is likely that Oumar Diallo was a victim of this controversial practice at the Berlin airport. Racial profiling means that the police stop and control people according to certain characteristics like skin color, religion or nationality. The commission found that the practice was widespread in Germany, despite official denials. "Stop and search controls by police are usually targeted at minority groups, including people of African descent. Boys and young men experience day-to-day confrontation with law enforcement, with higher risk of imprisonment," Sunga said. 63 percent of Germans believe racial profiling is necessary for reasons of security. But experts said the practice should be abolished by amending the federal police law. They also called for effective complaint mechanisms. Presently, complainants almost never stand a chance of having their grievances addressed.

While in Germany, the experts talked to government representatives, members of parliament and officials form several state governments. They also met with civil society representatives, who complained about the everyday racism experienced by people with African roots. "People are so prejudiced that they believe we are not capable of doing a job and won't even invite us for a job interview. Prejudice also means that we are discriminated against when looking for housing," student Karen Taylor told DW. "There are aspects of discrimination you experience every day," she added. Taylor's parents are from Ghana. She is an activist from the Black People in Germany Initiative.

On the 'lowest' rung of society?
"People of African descent are on the lowest rung of German society," chairman Sunga said. "They end up with jobs which nobody else wants, like cleaning toilets. They drive people of African descent into poverty, forcing them into depression." The Commission called for a national action plan to improve the situation of black people in Germany. More people of African descent should be employed in the public sector. The education system must be rid of discrimination. Germany should also deal more thoroughly with its colonial past, the experts recommended. Among other things, the UN working group called for representatives of the Herero and Nama to be allowed to participate in talks between the Namibian and German governments on colonial crimes. Oumar Diallo has also been fighting for a change of attitude towards blacks in Germany. In 1993 he opened a meeting space, the "Afrika-Haus", in Berlin, where debates, concerts and readings about Africa take place. Diallo said he hoped that would encourage Germans to learn about the importance of Africans for Germany. "We are a gain and a chance for this country. That is my approach," he said.
© The Deutsche Welle*


Germany: Suspected Islamist 'used to be neo-Nazi'

A suspected German Islamist, arrested last week for planning a terrorist attack, reportedly used to post hate-speech online against Muslims. De-radicalization experts say switching extremist movements is not uncommon.

27/2/2017- The suspected Islamist terrorist, arrested in the central German town of Northeim last week, previously expressed neo-Nazi sympathies, a press report has revealed. Citing anonymous insider information, news magazine "Der Spiegel" said that investigators had tracked down a YouTube channel and a Facebook profile belonging to Sascha L. that showed he had previously railed against Muslims and anti-fascists in the country. In 2013, the now 26-year-old posted videos in which he spoke of a "creeping death of the people," because of Muslims trying to impose sharia law in Germany. "Even a dog knows where it belongs. And where do you belong? Don't be stupider than a dog and save the German population from this planned extinction!" he was quoted in "Der Spiegel" as saying.

The "death of the people" rhetoric, as well as a specific white mask he wore in some of the videos, suggested that Sascha L. then identified with the neo-Nazi campaign known as the "The Immortals," which carried out a series of flash mobs in Germany around 2012. There was another video dated May 2013, entitled "Tips for fighting cockroaches," which called for attacks on immigrants in Germany. But it appears that Sascha L. converted to Islam some time in 2014, when he faced a court charged with spreading "Islamic State" messages online. State prosecutors in Celle refused to comment on the "Der Spiegel" report to DW, saying only that an investigation was currently under way. Sascha L. was arrested on February 21 on suspicion of planning a terrorist act and storing "items and chemicals" for manufacturing explosives. "The accused belongs to the Salafist scene," a state prosecutor's statement said, referring to the conservative Islamic movement. "During his first questioning, he admitted to planning to lure police officers or soldiers into a trap and then kill them with a home-made explosive."

Switching radical sides
This is not the first time that an individual has switched extremist groups. In 2012, Bernhard Falk, a former member of the leftist "Anti-Imperialist Cell" who converted to Islam while in prison, published a document calling for attacks on the Ramstein US military air base in Germany, after having apparently pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda. Most famously, Horst Mahler, a lawyer for the leftist Red Army Faction (RAF) terrorist group, later turned to far-right extremism. These examples illustrate why Thomas Mücke, head of the Violence Prevention Network, an organization that runs de-radicalization programs in Germany, was not surprised by Sascha L.'s story. "Whatever extremism is concerned, it's always about marginalizing other people, seeking out a homogenous community opposed to democracy," he said. "The ideologies of far-right extremism and religious extremism are very similar." "If there is no basic acceptance of human rights, they either stay in their scene or switch to another problematic scene," he added.

Psychology or social conditioning
Michaela Glaser, who runs a Halle-based research unit on preventing violent extremism at the German Youth Institute (DJI), thinks a tendency towards extremism is less about psychological patterns and more about social conditions:
"It's a combination of someone's experiences out of which certain things become plausible," she told DW. "Of course that has something to do with the individual and their needs, but 'psychological patterns' makes it sound too mechanical. There are certain socialization experiences that people have, that lead to extremist options becoming generally more attractive." "There are very different motives as to why people join such groups, but among those motives are definitely compensating for a lack of appreciation, a lack of a sense of belonging, a search for clarity, for knowing where you stand," she said. "And those are things that those ideologies always cater to. They do it differently, and of course they belong to different social groups. For example, it's obviously a lot more difficult for someone with an immigrant background to access a far-right extremist group."

Glaser argues that what all extremist ideologies offer people is a clear distinction between good and evil and a sense that its adherents belong to a special, chosen group - and that a sense of self-worth is imparted through belonging to the group. In other words, whereas far-right extremism works by making distinctions between race, Islamist extremism functions by dividing people between believers and non-believers. But the structure is similar.
© The Deutsche Welle*


Germany: Data: Nearly 10 anti-migrant attacks a day

Germany recorded more than 3,500 attacks against refugees and asylum shelters last year, according to new interior ministry figures, amounting to an average of nearly 10 acts of anti-migrant violence a day.

26/2/2017- The assaults -- coinciding with the country's bid to cope with a record influx of newcomers -- left 560 people injured, 43 of them children, the ministry said in a written reply to a parliamentary question. The government "strongly condemns" the violence, according to the letter seen by AFP on Sunday. "People who have fled their home country and seek protection in Germany have the right to expect safe shelter," it read. A total of 2,545 attacks against individual refugees were reported in 2016, the ministry wrote, citing police statistics. There was no immediate comparison with previous years as it was only introduced as a separate category of politically motivated crimes in 2016. Additionally, there were 988 instances of housing for refugees and asylum seekers being targeted last year, the ministry said, including arson attacks. That was slightly down on 2015 when there were just over 1,000 criminal acts against refugee shelters. In 2014, there were only 199 such cases.

- Cheers as shelter burns -
Separate figures not included in the police statistics meanwhile showed that there were 217 attacks against organisations and volunteers who work with asylum seekers, the ministry added. The sharp rise in hate crimes came after Germany took in some 890,000 asylum seekers in 2015 at the height of Europe's refugee crisis. Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to open the doors to those fleeing conflict and persecution deeply polarised the country and fuelled support for the rightwing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. The number of arrivals fell sharply in 2016 to 280,000, mainly thanks to border closures on the Balkan overland route and an EU deal with Turkey to stem the inflow. A lawmaker for Germany's far-left Die Linke party, Ulla Jelpke, blamed the anti-migrant violence on far-right extremists and urged the government to take stronger action.

"We're seeing nearly 10 (criminal) acts a day," she told the Funke Mediengruppe, a German regional newspaper group. "Do people have to die before the rightwing violence is considered a central domestic security problem and makes it to the top of the national policy agenda?" she asked. Earlier this month, a German neo-Nazi was sentenced to eight years in jail for burning down a sports hall that was due to house refugees, causing damage worth three and a half million euros ($3.7 million). In another case that shocked Germany, dozens of onlookers cheered and applauded as an asylum shelter was set alight in the eastern city of Bautzen last February. People were heard shouting "Good, that's up in flames", while police described the crowd as showing "unashamed joy" at the blaze. The challenges faced by Germany in integrating the flood of newcomers are expected to become a hot-button topic on the campaign trail as the country heads for a closely-fought general election in September.


Dutch paradox: Voters head for far right amidst rising prosperity

3/3/2017- The Dutch fishing village of Volendam hardly seems like a hotbed of discontent: tidy, prosperous, little crime or unemployment. Yet a third of its voters are likely to back anti-immigrant nationalist Geert Wilders in the March 15 general election. His appeal highlights a paradox that is challenging the status quo in Western democracies and fraying the European Union: voters are spurning the mainstream in favor of anti-establishment populism in times of economic wellbeing. The trend is especially striking in the Netherlands, where the economy is set to be the best performer in the euro zone this year and the people consistently rank near the top of global measurements of happiness and material comfort. Dutch anti-establishment sentiment is "first and foremost about culture and identity and less about economics", said Sarah de Lange, a University of Amsterdam political scientist studying the rise of far-right parties in the EU.

It echoes the dissatisfaction that fueled Britain's vote to quit the EU and Donald Trump's election as U.S. president, and the Dutch vote looks like the next chapter of the populist backlash, even if Wilders does not win big enough to gain power. Polls show Wilders' Party for Freedom (PVV) will more than double its seats in parliament to 26, almost even with Prime Minister Mark Rutte's conservatives who stand to tumble from 41 to 27, with his coalition partner Labour plunging to 14 from 38. But because centrist parties rule out any alliance with Wilders, he will probably end up in the opposition again. Still, he has already succeeded in pushing mainstream politics toward the hard right, with centrist parties now endorsing an immigration ban. Anger at pro-EU metropolitan political elites over years of liberal immigration policy is a major driver of Wilders' appeal.

Non-Western immigrants comprised 7.5 percent of the Dutch population in 1996, and that figure rose to 12.1 by 2015, according to Statistics Netherlands (CBS). Around five percent of the population of 17 million is now Muslim. "Imagine what a mess it would be in the zoo if all the cages were left open," Volendam retiree Willem Veerman said when asked why he has embraced Wilders' anti-Islam, anti-EU agenda. "Well, that's what's happening currently in Europe." The Dutch were long renowned for multicultural tolerance rooted in their history. But immigration has become the pivotal election issue regardless of whether voting districts are high- or low-income or have large or small numbers of foreigners.

Wilders Strongholds
Volendam is a largely white, middle-class community with small but freshly painted houses and spotless streets. Non-Western immigrants are a largely invisible 2 percent of its 8,000 population, joblessness is 3 percent, the crime rate 3 per 1,000 people and the median home price 325,000 euros ($343,800). De Lange said anti-immigrant feeling in places like Volendam often arises from fears that "big city problems" like crime will spill into their tranquil neighborhoods. Volendam is a half-hour drive from the cosmopolitan, heavily immigrant Amsterdam, the Netherlands' largest city. A second Wilders redoubt, Nissewaard, is ethnically mixed and less well-off. Fourteen percent of its 85,000 population is foreign, there are 7 crimes per 1,000 people, unemployment is 5.9 percent and the median house price 189,000 euros. The PVV scooped nearly 25 percent in Nissewaard in 2015 regional voting.

Mattijn van de Stroop, 45, said while watching Wilders on the stump in Nissewaard that he supports him because of his plan to lower the retirement age to 65 - raised to 67 under Rutte. Another reason is "Moroccans," he said. "You see it in the crime here. The other parties don't do as much and you see Wilders is standing up." In Rotterdam, the second-largest Dutch city, white voters have long gravitated to Wilders or other far-right parties. Thirty-eight percent of its 631,000 population is immigrant and the jobless rate exceeds 12 percent - both nationwide highs.

Immigration, Austerity - Potent Mix
An austerity campaign under Rutte also eroded respect for mainstream leadership because it hit middle- and lower-income Dutch much harder than the rich, stoking perceptions of unfairness and inequality on which Wilders has capitalized. Though the Dutch economy is buoyant now, spearheading euro zone growth, it stagnated at zero growth from 2008 to 2014 as the government cut spending to comply with EU budgetary rules in the wake of the 2008-09 financial crisis. Austerity bred much resentment - above all, over cuts to health services and care for the elderly. Together with ongoing immigration, the cuts deepened a sense among many that the country was deteriorating while politicians seemed oblivious.

"What people often say is, 'I'm doing fine, but things are not going well in this country'," said Julia van Rijn, a minister in Amsterdam's Protestant Church. "Until now, every generation has had it better than the previous generation. But now people have the feeling that it's stagnating, and they're afraid for their children." While most of the Dutch are positive about their personal situation, seven of 10 are pessimistic about the country as a whole, citing social divisions and diminishing national character, a recent poll showed. Wilders' campaign slogan, "The Netherlands Ours Again", plays to traditional Dutch patriotism and nostalgia. "(There's a) perceived threat to Dutch identity, Dutch values and the Dutch way of life, that it will be eroded by migration and the size of the Muslim population," de Lange said.

The election is the first of three in EU founding-member states this year, with populist parties in France and Germany also counting on anxieties over immigration and identity to bring them gains that could transform the continent's politics. The roots of populist revolt in the Netherlands actually date back almost two decades. The country's first right-wing populist, Pim Fortuyn, rocketed to popularity on an anti-immigrant platform before he was shot dead by a leftist activist in 2002. Wilders' own popularity took off after the 2004 murder of anti-Muslim filmmaker Theo van Gogh by an Islamist militant.

Immigration Down But Insecurities Up
The number of asylum seekers actually fell by 50 percent in 2016, thanks to an EU deal with Turkey that curbed a large influx of mainly Muslim migrants via that country into Europe. But a central complaint of Party for Freedom voters is that the Dutch welfare system simply cannot afford more newcomers. As of June 2016, 15.2 percent of non-Western immigrants were jobless, compared to around 6 percent for native-born Dutch. Carla Dekker, a Wilders voter in Hendrik-Ido-Ambacht, a Rotterdam suburb and PVV stronghold, said she had no problem with legitimate refugees, but she opposes economic migrants who claim welfare benefits. "It's a kind of parasitism," she said. Accompanying worries about the cost of immigrants is an emotional national debate about their perceived failure to adopt Dutch cultural norms, such as women's rights and acceptance of homosexuality.

Recognizing the political capital Wilders has made from such resentment, mainstream party leaders have begun aping some of his themes. Last month, Rutte published a letter to the nation summoning immigrants "to conform or go home". The center-left Labour Party has proposed making it a crime to "follow and hinder, hiss at or make sexual proposals toward" women in the street - behavior associated by many Dutch with Muslim immigrants. Dekker said she regards such moves as mere gestures. "In any case it comes across to me as very unconvincing." She said mainstream politicians have had plenty of time to address problems linked to immigration, and they still had not accepted Dutch voters' emphatic rejection of European unity projects in referendums in 2005 and 2016. "It's time for a fresh wind," she said. "If Wilders comes first and they shut him out of government, I don't know. I almost think there will be a rebellion."
© Reuters


Dutch nationalist Wilders slips to second in poll ahead of March 15 vote

Just two weeks ahead of the Dutch election, Geert Wilders, leader of the right-wing populist Party for Freedom, has slipped into second place. The vote will be the first among three of the EU's founder members this year.

1/3/2017- According to the Peilingwijzer poll, published Wednesday, far-right party leader Geert Wilders has fallen behind the conservative VVD party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte for the first time since November 2016. Anti-Islamic and eurosceptic Wilders is now on 15.7 percent, while Rutte's VVD leads him on 16.3 percent.

Calls for mosque closures
With its key campaign promises including a ban on Muslim immigrants, the closure of all mosques in the Netherlands and a Brexit-styled departure from the EU, the Party for Freedom has established a strong supporter base with Holland's anti-immigrant, anti-EU voters.

Hate incitement conviction
Launching his election campaign last month, Wilders - who was convicted in December of inciting hatred- showed no sign of letting up his racist rhetoric, describing Holland's Moroccan population as "scum." Days into his campaign, however, Wilders - who is constantly escorted by his own personal bodyguards - announced that the PVV had suspended public events indefinitely. The decision followed the arrest of a law enforcement agent for leaking sensitive information to a criminal organization. Authorities, however said the right-wing politician's safety had not been compromised by the security breach. "What we know up to now is that Wilders' safety was not in question," said Dutch police chief Akkerboom.

Reshaping Europe's political map
Scheduled to take place on March 15, the Dutch parliamentary election will mark the first of three elections among European Union founder members this year. Like the PVV, right-wing populist parties in both France and Germany are hoping that concerns over national security and immigration will help them to make electoral gains that could reshape Europe and its politics. However, even if Wilders were to claim election victory on March 15, the far-right leader is unlikely to be able to found a coalition. Almost all opposition parties have ruled out forming a coalition with him.
© The Deutsche Welle*


Netherlands: Wilders cancels yet another election TV appearance

27/2/2017- Geert Wilders has pulled out of a TV interview with late night news show Nieuwsuur because he ‘doesn’t like it’. It is the latest walkout by the PVV leader, who was absent from last night’s television debate on RTL4 and the Radio 1 leaders’ debate on Friday. Wilders has also declined the regional TV debate on March 11 and withdrew from the March 5 debate in Amsterdam’s Carré theatre in protest after RTL Nieuws, one of the organisers, broadcast an interview with his brother, Paul. Wilders cancelled all public engagements last week after it emerged that a member of his security team had connections with Moroccan gangsters. However, a spokesman said that the decision not to appear on Nieuwsuur was not security-related. Wilders had decided ‘only to do things we like, and this isn’t something we like,’ the party spokesman explained.

Nieuwsuur has been running individual interviews with all party leaders in Parliament in the two weeks running up to the election on March 15. Programme editor Joost Oranje said: ‘We’re running the rule over 13 parties and it’s a real shame if one of those parties declines because they “don’t like it”.’ Wilders is still due to take part in a head-to-head debate with Rutte in EenVandaag on March 13 and the final leaders’ debate on NOS the following night. Prime minister Mark Rutte said on Monday that there was no increased threat to Wilders’s safety and his decision to cancel public events was down to him alone. ‘If he wants to, we’ll make sure he can,’ Rutte told NOS.
© The Dutch News


Netherlands: Who is Geert Wilders? Former globetrotter with anti-Islam agenda

More than 13 years of protective seclusion have helped define Wilders’ politics

1/3/2017- Since the evening in 2004 when policemen arrived unannounced to escort him and his wife to safety, Geert Wilders has lived in safe houses under 24-hour guard to protect him from Islamist militants who threatened to kill him. Film-maker Theo van Gogh had been shot, stabbed and nearly beheaded by a militant Islamist earlier that day, and Mr Wilders, another prominent critic of Islam, was seen as a likely next target. Nearly 13 years under protective seclusion have only strengthened his convictions. Mr Wilders, 53, now wants to halt Muslim immigration, close all mosques and ban the Quran, which he compares to Mein Kampf. He is on Taliban and al-Qaeda hit-lists, and blames Islam for the long confinement that ended his life as a cosmopolitan globetrotter.

“I can hardly remember what it’s like to cross the road alone,” he said in February. “I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. But at least I know why I do what I do. My mission is to make sure the Netherlands, unlike my own life, remains free.” With a flare for the limelight – he wears his hair in an instantly recognisable platinum bleached-blond quiff – Mr Wilders is within a whisker of leading the largest party in the Dutch parliament after next month’s elections. Other parties have ruled out a coalition with him, which is likely to keep him out of government, especially since he was convicted in December of inciting discrimination for leading a crowd in a chant for “Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!” Moroccans. Two weeks ago he repeated calls for a crackdown on “Moroccan scum”.

Centre-right Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who once led a minority government that excluded Mr Wilders but relied on his support, now says he will never work with him again. “He’s against the freedoms and values of our society,” Mr Rutte said. But the prospect of Mr Wilders gaining stature even while shut out of power has alarmed Dutch Muslims, who make up 5 per cent of the population. “It’s not about him burning Qurans or literally closing mosques, because we know that’s very unlikely,” said Dounia Jari, a Moroccan-Dutch activist who helps young gay, lesbian and transgender Muslims come to terms with their identities. “But with him spreading hatred, he won’t be targeted, but I can be targeted on the streets by someone who shares his ideology.”

Though often compared to outsiders like French nationalist Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage or Donald Trump, Mr Wilders emerged from within mainstream Dutch politics. When Mr Van Gogh was killed in 2004, Mr Wilders had just quit the main centre-right liberal party over his opposition to Turkey joining the EU. In February, 2006 he founded his Party for Freedom (PVV), which combined libertarian promises to raise speed limits with harsh anti-Muslim rhetoric. Most Dutch people see openness and religious tolerance as essential national traits of their cosmopolitan seafaring country. Holland has served as a European haven for refugees since the 16th century, when the mainly Protestant Dutch broke away from Catholic Spain, dedicated their new state to religious freedom and offered protection to minorities including Spanish Jews.

Mr Wilders says it is precisely that tolerance that is threatened by Islam’s “totalitarian ideology”. Passionate about the Middle East since he spent time on an Israeli cooperative farm as a teenager, he says his opposition to Islam came from contrasting Israel’s openness with its neighbours. Even as his party has grown, its opposition to Islam has strengthened. A third of the party’s one-page manifesto is devoted to it. When he entered politics in 1990 without a university degree after a stint working for a health insurer, it was as a social policy specialist, advising the liberals on ways to cut back on the Netherlands’ then very generous out-of-work allowances. Colleagues remember a driven expert with a skilled politician’s command of his technical brief, with little time for socialising. His party started in that technocratic tradition, advocating pro-business, Atlanticist neoconservatism.

Over the years of his isolation, anti-Islamism usurped most of that agenda. Under his security regimen, his entire party sits in a secured corridor in parliament, isolated from easy contact with other lawmakers, forbidden from visiting the parliamentary bar. Two armed guards stand in front of his office door. Even when he is in Budapest visiting the family of his Hungarian wife, safe houses are kept ready for emergencies. “He’s been under guard 24/7 for 13 years,” said Cas Mudde, a University of Georgia specialist in populism. “If your whole life has been put on hold because of what you perceive as a religion – it’s an existential threat to him.” His isolation translates into a willingness to go it alone in politics. He triggered the collapse of Mr Rutte’s minority government in 2012 by refusing to back social spending cuts needed to meet European Union deficit spending rules, alienating a political class that prizes constructiveness above all else.

Despite polling around 17 per cent, enough for the PVV to emerge as the biggest party, Mr Wilders has the wrong mentality to enter government, said Frits Bolkestein, who led the liberals when Mr Wilders worked there on policy. He “isn’t prepared to make the changes needed to govern, because of his mental make-up”, Mr Bolkestein said. “If we wanted to cut him down to size, the thing would be to give him responsibility. If he ran a large ministry, he’d probably fail.” His own brother, Paul, has taken to Twitter and given interviews distancing himself from his policies. “Political exploitation of social unrest is a dangerous thing,” Paul Wilders told RTL Nieuws. “Those with the shiniest fruit on the market often sell the most poisonous oranges.”

Geert Wilders grew up as the youngest child of a family in predominantly Catholic Limburg, a south-eastern prong of the Netherlands that juts out into the borderlands between Belgium and Germany, an ancient crossroads. His father was a middle manager for printing equipment maker Oce, a proud Dutch multinational later sold to Japan’s Canon. His mother, a soldier’s daughter, was born in Indonesia when that mainly Muslim country was a Dutch colony. He says her parents were Dutch but he had mixed-race Indonesian cousins and that international background influenced his upbringing. Mr Wilders became an inveterate traveller after his first trip to the Middle East, roaming eastern Europe and visiting Iran repeatedly while working for the liberals.

He was personable in the years before his confinement, remembers Laszlo Maracz, a Dutch-Hungarian academic who helped Mr Wilders write a report in the 1990s on the rights of ethnic Hungarian minorities in eastern Europe. He liked to play high-stakes dice games to relax. “Yahtzee was his favourite,” Maracz said. “He always knew how to go all in on a bet, managing to throw a high enough number against the odds.”
© Reuters


Dutch immigrants' party challenging the far-right

With anti-Islam Dutch MP Geert Wilders topping the polls ahead of next month's elections, one small group is hoping to buck the trend: the country's first party led by immigrants.

2/3/2017- Denk, or "think" in Dutch, wants to fight what it calls "institutional racism" by setting up a national register of racist phrases and expressions; replacing the idea of "integration" with "acceptance" and calling for an official apology for the country's past links to the slave trade. Launched in 2015 by two MPs who were thrown out of the Labour party amid a row over its immigration policies, it has positioned itself ahead of the March 15 vote as the only true response to the anti-immigration, anti-Islam stand of Wilders and his far-right Freedom Party (PVV). "It is unique in The Netherlands to have a party led by Dutch people with foreign roots," said political expert Sjaak Koening, from Maastricht University.

Critics say it employs some of the same bulldozer tactics as Wilders, and accuse it of cosying up to Turkey and its controversial President Recep Tayipp Erdogan, and seeking to divide the country which has gained a reputation for tolerance. But the accusations are dismissed by a leading party member Farid Azarkan, who insisted Denk wants to be "the party of all Dutch people". "If Geert Wilders publishes a Photoshopped picture of a rival, is that not polarisation? If a Christian party says their God is better than ours, is that not polarisation? If young people are excluded from society because they are Muslims, is that not polarisation?" he asked. "We want to write history, under the leadership of the children of immigrants," he told AFP. "We want to take our place in democracy, and that happens via parliament."

- 'Demonised?' -
There are 28 parties competing for the ballots of 12.9 million eligible voters in March -- a particularly fractured political landscape in a country already used to coalition governments. Denk is hoping to win the support of some of the two million Dutch people who have at least one parent born outside of The Netherlands and the EU. And opinion polls say it could emerge with one to two seats in the new 150-seat lower house of parliament. Denk's "core argument is the idea that Muslims are demonised" after years of slogans and attacks by Wilders, said Geerten Waling, from Leiden University. According to a poll by the EtnoBarometer institute some 40 percent of people of Turkish origin and about 34 percent of people with Moroccan roots will vote for Denk. While Wilders's party "is the party of the angry white man, you could say that Denk is the party of the angry brown man," said political researcher Aziz el Kaddouri, quoted in Dutch media. "They feel they have been abandoned, and say, 'we are doing our best, but it is always suggested that our integration has failed'."

- Shock tactics -
Azarkan rejects Kaddouri's label saying rather they are a party of "disappointed voters" fed up with traditional politics who finally "have the impression that there is a party which can make their voices heard." Although Denk and PVV are ideologically poles apart, there are parallels. Both were founded by MPs who left traditional parties. Both are very active on social media with large followings. Denk also regularly attacks the media, like Wilders, and resorts to shock headline-grabbing phrases. The party is also not afraid of confrontation to push its agenda -- its leader Tunahan Kuzu created headlines last year when he refused in the name of Palestinians to shake the hand of visiting Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

"They certainly have a populist approach, but I wouldn't say yet that they are a populist party. They would have to go much further for that," said Koening. Waling believes Denk represents "quite a conservative Muslim group, mostly from Turkish conservatives in the Netherlands" who reject for example any moves to monitor Muslim organisations here, or to put forward motions referring to the "Armenian genocide". "But at least they are bringing new themes to politics and that is always good for democracy," said Koening.


Why Dutch voters are about to set the stage for Europe’s elections (opinion)

Whatever the outcome of polls in the Netherlands, populism looks set to emerge as the winner 
By Cas Mudde 

26/2/2017- The Dutch will vote in parliamentary elections on 15 March and, whatever the outcome, will set the stage for key elections across Europe this year – starting with the first round of the French presidential election on 23 April. Seldom has Europe followed Dutch elections so closely, and seldom have they been so unpredictable. So what can Europe expect from the Netherlands and what can we learn? For decades Dutch elections were the most boring in western Europe, with the vast majority of people voting for the same party their whole life, creating only small electoral shifts. This changed in 2002, because of the shock effect of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the rise of the populist Pim Fortuyn, cut short by his murder nine days before the 2002 general election. Although the political party that Fortuyn founded, the LPF, existed for less than six years, it fundamentally changed the political system. Dutch elections are now more volatile, the tone is harsher, and the issues broader – with immigration and Islam now dominating most campaigns.

While unconnected to the LPF, Geert Wilders has in many ways taken Fortuyn’s role of enfant terrible, transforming himself from a conservative backbencher into a populist radical-right leader. Today, no article on Dutch politics is written without at least a mention of “the firebrand MP with the peroxide-blond hair” who has been in a neck-and-neck struggle for first place with his former party, the conservative VVD of prime minister Mark Rutte, for months now. The former political allies – Wilders supported the minority government of Rutte from 2010 to 2012 – have become political enemies. Wilders has been attacking Rutte and his policies for years now, while Rutte has categorically excluded Wilders from a future coalition government.

The Economist recently wrote that Dutch politics are a bellwether for Europe, arguing that developments in the Netherlands tend to be followed in other European countries a few years later. In a similar way, Politico described Wilders as “the man who invented Trumpism”. Both claims hold some kernel of truth. Wilders is a relative latecomer to the European radical right; Austria’s Freedom party (FPÖ) and France’s Front National (FN) are decades older and their first electoral successes date back to the 1990s, years before Wilders split from the VVD and founded his Party for Freedom (PVV). At the same time, Wilders is literally a one-man show who was dominating Dutch politics through Twitter well before Donald Trump even considered running for president. And while the Netherlands has set some trends in European politics, most notably in mainstreaming Euroscepticism and Islamophobia, it was not always alone – Denmark has undergone a fairly similar development – and still has specific Dutch features.

Across Europe, we can see three trends in elections, which can be described in the famous terms of the German-American economist Albert Hirschman: exit, voice and loyalty. In two of these the Dutch lead the way, but one bucks the broader trend. To start with exit (non-voting), throughout Europe turnout in national and European elections has been dropping. Although the trend is not universal, the past 10 years has seen a sharp drop in several countries. Perhaps most shocking is the situation in Greece, a country that has compulsory voting, although it is not really enforced. In 1985 the abstention rate in national elections was “just” 16.2%, in 2004 it was 23.4%, and in the last elections, in September 2015, it was a staggering 44%. In other words, in a country with compulsory voting a modest majority of 56% turned out. Compared with that, the decrease in turnout in Dutch national elections is modest: in 1986 turnout was 86% and in the last two elections it was still a commendable 75%. Expectations are that turnout might actually go up in this year’s elections.

With regard to loyalty (the vote for established parties), the Netherlands is very much in line with the European trend. Most European countries have seen a sharp decline in electoral support for established parties. While this development is related to societal changes that date back to the 1960s and 1970s, such as secularisation and a shrinking working class, the decline of the established parties only became a broader issue in the 1990s, and has significantly increased during the great recession. The process has been particularly pronounced in the Netherlands. Throughout the 1980s the three established parties – the Christian democratic CDA, the social democratic PvdA, and the conservative VVD – received around 80% of the vote. In 2002 that dropped to about 60% as a consequence of the rise of Fortuyn’s LPF, and it stayed like that until 2012 – although Rutte’s VVD is now bigger than the CDA and the PvdA. However, in the most recent polls the three parties only have some 40% of the vote, half of what they had in the 1980s.

At the same time, voice (the support for populist parties) has increased significantly. In the 1980s populist parties barely got more than a few seats in parliament, whereas in 2002 the left populist SP and Fortuyn’s right populist LPF together gained more than 20%. In the latest polls Wilders’s PVV is the largest party, or at least running neck-and-neck with the Rutte’s VVD, while the SP is struggling a bit – and has become less populist. Together they are close to 30% of the vote, of which the PVV would get almost two-thirds. The combination of decreasing loyalty and increasing voice leads to fragmented and polarised party systems, which make it more difficult to form coalition governments – as we have seen in Greece and Spain, where new elections were necessary to break the deadlock. This is certainly a possibility in the Netherlands, where forming a coalition is almost impossible.

The two most likely outcomes of the Dutch elections are either a very broad coalition of four or five parties, with or without Wilders’s PVV, or a minority government, dependent upon temporary coalitions to get some policies through. Whatever the outcome, it will only strengthen political dissatisfaction, creating more fragmentation and polarisation, leading to even less loyalty and even more voice. That is the main European lesson of the Dutch elections.
Cas Mudde is associate professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia and the author of The Populist Radical Right: A Reader (2017)
© Comment is free - Guardian


UK: Romanians in UK Worried by Suspected Hate Attack

After five Romanians were wounded in London by a drunk driver in a suspected hate crime, others said they feel worried about an increase in anti-immigrant feeling in Britain.

1/3/2017- Reports that five car-wash workers were injured when a car ploughed into them in South London on Sunday have worried fellow Romanians working in the UK, amid wider fears of increased racism as the British government continues its preparations to leave the EU. Police said it wasn’t a terror attack and arrested the perpetrator for drunk driving. They did not suggest that it was a hate crime. However, witnesses told journalists that the driver had deliberately hit the Romanians. Tommy Tomescu, a Romanian dentist who founded the Alliance Against Romanian and Bulgarian Discrimination in 2014, said the incident was bound to create anxiety among Eastern Europeans because it came right after the UK’s Office for National Statistics announced that Romanian and Bulgarian immigration had reached a record high. “It just came at a strange moment,” Tomescu said. “However, in order to be able to label something like this a hate crime, the perpetrator has to admit it,” he added.

Oana Mihalache, a 35-year-old domestic worker, said she had heard about the incident. “The police haven’t said anything about any hate crime, at the moment all we have is speculations. But there are areas where the anti-Romanian and anti-Bulgarian sentiment is pretty obvious,” said Mihalache. She said that she had been treated disrespectfully many times by some of her employers who resented her nationality, but that nobody was ever violent towards her. “They just make you feel you’re a lesser person because you come from Eastern Europe,” she said. Romanians have been targets of hate crimes in the months after the Brexit referendum, according to Tomescu. He said that a woman had stones thrown at her in northern England and a shop belonging to a Romanian was burned in Norwich. He explained that cases of crimes against Romanians cases were not as prominent in the media as recent attacks on Polish citizens because they were not as dramatic.

Embassies of Eastern European countries reported a rise in alleged hate crimes in the two months following last June’s Brexit vote, The Guardian newspaper reported - most of them attacks on Poles. The Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the embassy in London have many times appealed to Romanian citizens to report any incident that might be labelled as discrimination or hate crime, but none of the five Romanians who were wounded in the incident asked for consular assistance. However, the ministry said in a press release that diplomats were keeping in contact with the British police to follow the investigation. News on Monday that British PM Theresa May is mulling imposing restrictions on immigration for EU citizens as soon as the Brexit negotiations start in March has also worried the Romanian community.

Tomescu said there are plenty of Romanians who are being exploited by employers, paid very little and do not have time to register with the authorities. Many live on the premises at car washes, like the five people who were wounded by the drunk driver in London. Tomescu said that at the community centre he runs, out of 40 people who seek help or come to have a meal, only two have proper documentation. “Their situation will be dramatic when the Brexit happens. And they are many,” he said.
© Balkan Insight


UK: Government considers cutting migrant benefits

But foreign workers in key jobs could get multi year visas

25/2/2017- Ministers are reportedly considering plans to limit benefits for new immigrants and give multi-year visas to migrant workers in key sectors as part of efforts to stick to the pledge to bring net inward migration down to the tens of thousands. The plans being discussed by senior ministers could also see the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) advising the Government on how many visas should be issued to take the political sting out of the issue, according to The Sunday Times. Under the proposals for a post-Brexit Britain with full control over immigration, new arrivals could be given five-year working visas if they have a job but be banned from claiming any benefits during that time. The MAC would decide how many visas need to be issued for workers in key industries such as software engineering, health and social care, farming and hospitality, which are heavily reliant on immigrants.

The Prime Minister reportedly ordered ministers to make preparations for a new system at a meeting of the Cabinet's Brexit committee on Thursday. According to the newspaper, Mrs May will also attempt to guarantee the rights of all EU nationals who are resident in the UK on the day she triggers Article 50 to begin exit negotiations, if she can get a similar agreement for British expats in Europe. This is because Home Office lawyers have warned the Government would face a legal challenge if it made the cut-off date the day of last year's EU referendum, the report said. A Government spokesman said: “We said we would use the opportunity of leaving the European Union to take control of our immigration system and we will do exactly that. “Our plans will be published in due course but this is just speculation.”
© The Independent


UK: Two far-right bands from Wales have been named in a 'hate report'

The report has named Redneck 28, from Swansea, and Blackout, originally from Merthyr, as part of a growing hate-based music scene

25/2/2017- Two far-right rock bands from Wales have been identified as being among “the most influential groups and individuals disseminating hate in Britain”. The State of Hate report 2017 has named Redneck 28, from Swansea, and Blackout, originally from Merthyr, as part of a growing hate-based music scene. In the report – which was written by charity Hope Not Hate – Redneck 28 are described as one of the UK’s most extreme bands. In October it was confirmed they were investigated by South Wales Police after their lead singer, Chris Lewis, performed at an event in Budapest last year wearing a KKK hood. The band also posed next to Ku Klux Klan members who “lynched” a golly puppet at a far right demonstration in 2013. In addition to borrowing the controversial imagery of the American South, the band’s lyrics also include multiple references to Nazism and white power. In one song, they sing: “This is our land in which we are proud, we will stand and fight and raise our right hand, Sieg Heil, Sieg Heil.”

The four-piece’s back catalogue contains songs supporting the Holocaust and about lynching black people. Their repertoire includes tracks called Jew Jew Train and N****** Love Chicken. The band features singer and banjo player Lewis and his wife Debra Lewis, who plays drums. The number two and eight in the band’s name represent the position of B, for ‘blood’, and H, for ‘honour’, in the alphabet. Blood and Honour is the name of a neo-Nazi organisation with links to the band. Both Chris and Debra Lewis were confronted by the Daily Mirror in September 2015 about their relationship with the organisation. Confirming their close links to far-right extremism Mr Lewis, 54, said: “I’d be a fool to deny it but I need my name left out of it. I need to keep myself protected.”

Swansea East MP Carolyn Harris said she was “ashamed” of the views and behaviour of the band – members of whom live within her constituency. She said: “I have been aware of this group for a while and struggle to understand how such offensive behaviour can be considered entertainment. “Recorded hate crime has increased 10% in the South Wales Police area since last June. I would like to hope that this means that more people are now reporting it to police rather than an increase in hate crime itself. “Swansea is the first City of Sanctuary in Wales so I am ashamed to hear of such hateful behaviour taking place.”

The second Welsh band highlighted by the report was Blackout, who originally formed in Merthyr Tydfil. Formed in 1990, the band has had a rotating cast but since 2005 has been centred around the trio of David Braddon, Andrew Heggie, and Stephen Deverall. The group have links with fellow far-right bands Celtic Warrior and Brutal Attack, with members of Blackout appearing on their albums. Blackout’s lyrics include: “My land has fallen to foreign hands so many times before and the time has come to take a stand against the filthy whores.” In a text interview with a far-right music website, the band described their political allegiances. They wrote: “None of the band members are active in any political parties but we do support any-pro white party that is trying to promote the 14 words.” The 14 words is a neo-Nazi slogan that says: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” Both Mr and Mrs Lewis, along with Mr Braddon, Mr Heggie, and Mr Deverall, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

A spokesman for South Wales Police said the force would not comment on specific investigations but added: “South Wales Police will not tolerate hate crime and will take robust action to prosecute wherever possible. “While the numbers across Wales are few we are committed to ensuring that those who show support for proscribed or extreme-thinking organisations and spread hate in our communities are pursued and, with the support of the CPS, put before the courts. “People who witness or are the victim of hate crime are encouraged to report the incident to the police as soon as possible.
You can do this by calling 101 or contact Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555111.”
© Wales Online


UK: Far-right Polish priest detained at Stansted airport

Jacek Miźdlar held by UK authorities hours before he was supposed to address Britain First rally in Shropshire

25/2/2017- A notorious Polish priest accused of spreading antisemitism and Islamophobia has been detained by UK authorities hours before he was due to address a far-right rally in Shropshire. Jacek Miźdlar, a leading figure for rightwing extremists in Poland, was held by UK border officials after landing at Stansted airport, Essex, to prevent him attending the controversial event in Telford. The rally was organised by far-right group Britain First. Anti-racism campaigners described Miźdlar’s scheduled appearance as further proof of the growing links between British extremists and nationalists abroad. Branded a “fanatical hate preacher” by anti-racism campaigners in Poland, the 28-year-old attacks his critics as “leftists” opposed to “Polish patriotism”. Telford was reportedly chosen for the anti-Islam march because of a 2016 Daily Mail report that insinuated the market town was “the new Rotherham” owing to alleged child sexual exploitation in the area. The deputy leader of Britain First, Jayda Fransen, last week tweeted: “Come and stand with us against Muslim grooming gangs!”

The protest has been broadly condemned by the town’s residents, including the Conservative MP, Lucy Allan, who accused Miźdlar and Britain First of attempting to “hijack” the experiences of child sex abuse victims for political traction. Miźdlar, from Wroc³aw in west Poland, has cultivated a sizeable following in his country and despite being suspended by his local Catholic church for the content of his nationalist sermons, has addressed tens of thousands people at rightwing rallies. His speeches target the political left, “Islamic aggression” and immigration and are often accompanied with calls for the “warriors of great Poland” and chants of “God, honour, fatherland”. Anti-racism campaigners have warned he could radicalise some of the 830,000 Poles living in the UK and called on the UK authorities to intervene before his arrival. On Saturday, UK Border Agency officials reportedly held Miźdlar shortly after his flight landed specifically to prevent him from travelling to Telford on the grounds of hate speech.

Last year, Miźdlar was accused of calling Jews a “cancer” who had “swept Poland” during one address to a far-right rally in Bia³ystok, north-eastern Poland, although prosecutors later absolved him of alleged hate-speech offences. Maciek has stated that he accepted Britain First’s invitation to speak in Shropshire in a move to “pool our strength to rebuild a Christian Europe”. Britain First, whose founder Jim Dowson has extensive contacts to far-right networks in eastern Europe, can count 1.4m Facebook followers. However, it struggles to attract significant crowds and is believed to have a membership of between 800 and 1,000 people. Miźdlar’s invitation to speak in Telford, where at least 2,000 Polish speakers in and around the town make it the most spoken language after English, follows a report by anti-rascist group Hope not Hate that a number of Polish far-right groups had become active in the UK.

Hope Not Hate warned last week that Miźdlar’s visit to the UK would bring “rabid extremism to Telford” and warned that Miźdlar had once claimed that the “biggest enemies of the world are Jewish imperialists and masons”. The Home Office said: “An individual was detained at Stansted airport at 8.40am this morning by Border Force officers working closely with Essex police. “All passengers attempting to enter the UK are subject to checks by Border Force officers against police, security and immigration watch lists. Where we believe someone poses a risk, Border Force officers can – and do – refuse them entry.” Hope not Hate tweeted: “Bad news for Britain First: Jew-hating priest Jacek Miźdlar has been held and prevented from entering the country.”

Rafa³ Pankowski of Poland’s leading anti-racist organisation Never Again said Miźdlar was “exceptionally” strident when delivering his hate-filled speeches and that news of his detention had triggered headlines throughout the country’s mainstream media. He said: “He’s exceptional in terms of the intensity of his hatred, which is a core part of his message.
© The Guardian.


Ireland: To fight far right we must help Muslims to fit in

We have three upcoming elections in France, the Netherlands and Germany where immigration - and Muslim immigration in particular - will be the main issue. In America, Donald Trump has declared his hand. Anti-Islam was one of his central campaign messages. And in Britain, immigration was probably the issue that swung the Brexit vote.
By David Mc Williams

25/2/2017- Your tolerance or otherwise of mass immigration depends on many factors. Are you threatened? Do you benefit economically? Do you believe that multiculturalism is a good thing? Do you believe that we should take responsibility for the poor? Most of us do not take extreme positions on immigration and are typically somewhere in the middle. It is common to hear people saying the success or otherwise of immigration depends whether the immigrants "fit in". Integration is what politicians call it, but to most of us the expression "fitting in" does just grand. Integration is Orwellian-sounding. It is the sort of term a European Commission bureaucrat would come up with. So immigration is about fitting in, being one of us. No matter how different the parents are, most of us believe that the children of immigrants to Ireland will become Irish and will share our values. In this scenario, immigration does not lead to segregation. In other words, time heals all. We Irish are the living embodiment of this.

In the US of the mid-19th century, mass Irish and German immigration, particularly Catholic immigration, prompted the virulently anti-Catholic "Know Nothing" movement. The Know Nothings were a Nativist American movement - a kind of precursor of Mr Trump - that warned against the dilution of Protestant America by these new Catholics. In 1855, 52pc of New York's 622,925 citizens were foreign-born. Of these foreigners, 28pc were Irish and 16pc were German. In all, from 1847 to 1860, 1.1 million Irish immigrants docked at the Port of New York, as well as 900,000 largely Catholic Germans. The Know Nothings claimed these Catholics, particularly the Irish, would never fit in. They were seen as foreign and un-American. The Know Nothings called for a 21-year naturalisation rule to prevent the Irish from voting. Only after this time could the immigrant be American enough to gain the right to vote.

In the end, the opposition to Catholics - and later Jews - proved to be transitory. Both groups fitted in, eventually. This ability of the immigrants to fit in is crucial to the gradual acceptance of new neighbours in any society. But if "fitting in" is a natural process, why is a massive resistance to Islamic immigration sweeping across the West? This is new. It is violent and it is dangerous. But is it understandable?

Are Muslim immigrants different?
I was thinking about this while watching coverage of the Dutch elections because the Netherlands has been traditionally a very open, tolerant country. Yet on March 15, Geert Wilders' Party for Freedom, or PVV, is likely to become the biggest political party in the country. Among his proposed policies are zero new immigration and - more inflammatory - closure of all Mosques and a ban on the sale of the Koran in The Netherlands. This to me is outrageous stuff, but indignation is not a strategy. The question is whether Mr Wilders and French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen are both tapping into something real or are they simply demagogues. If Muslims fit in like all previous immigrants before them and if the children of Muslim immigrants become just like the locals, surely this opposition is simply racist?

In considering this question, I re-examined a paper I read a few years ago published by respected economists in Germany, based then on up-to-date evidence from the UK. This research suggests that Muslim immigrants could be an exception. The Institute for the Study of Labour in Bonn suggested, in a research paper "Are Muslim Immigrants different in terms of Cultural Integration?" ( that the evidence shows many Muslim migrants are exceptional. This territory - as we all know - is a minefield, so let's stay as close as possible to the data. Using the UK Fourth National Survey of Ethnic Minorities, the German researchers arrive at definitive but explosive conclusions. If these conclusions were incendiary 10 years ago, think about the political reality today.

In a nutshell, the data shows that in Britain, Muslims integrate less and considerably more slowly than non-Muslims. A Muslim born in the UK and having spent more than 50 years there, is likely to have a much stronger, separate identity than another non-Muslim immigrant who has just arrived. This includes Chinese, Caribbeans and non-Muslim Indians. The first finding of the report, which is based on comprehensive survey data and interviews carried out in the UK, found that "Muslims do not seem to assimilate with the time spent in the UK, or at least they seem to do so at a much slower rate than non-Muslims". For example, 79pc of Muslims stated that religious identity was very important to them as opposed to 42pc of non-Muslims. Meanwhile, 70pc of Muslims said that they "would mind very much" if one of the family married a non-Muslim person as opposed to 37pc of other faiths.

The second finding blows a hole in one of the central economic arguments about financial progress and fitting in. Most economists, social scientists and political commentators say that integration is a matter of opportunity. But this finding reveals that for British Muslims, "Education does not seem to have any effect on the attenuation of their identity; and job qualification, as well as living in neighbourhoods with a low unemployment rate, seem to accentuate rather than moderate the identity formation of Muslims". Bizarrely, therefore, the richer the area, the more "Muslim" the Muslim resident becomes. The third observation, which is particularly interesting as it goes against the presumed wisdom, is that "for Muslims more than for non-Muslims, there is no evidence that segregated neighbourhoods breed intense religious and cultural identities". This is relevant because it is normal to hear politicians warn (whether they mean this or not) against "creating ghettos". This report suggests that ghettos don't matter in terms of affecting the extent of Muslim integration.

These findings indicate that "fitting in" isn't always something that we can assume just happens. Granted it is just one paper and it singles out the UK, but it is fascinating and instructive. The lesson is that if we want to counter the anti-Muslim feeling whipped up by the likes of Mr Wilders and Ms Le Pen, we can't simply be indignant or merely affronted. If Europe wants less anti-Muslim political movements, policies to encourage "fitting in" need to be the most pressing issue of the day. It also means that Muslim leaders have to be honest about whether they are playing their part in coaxing their own communities to fit in. In the long-run this can only be beneficial for everyone, but right now the omens are not good.
© The Irish Independent


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