NEWS - Archive December 2017

Headlines 29 December, 2017

Headlines 22 December, 2017

Headlines 15 December, 2017

Headlines 8 December, 2017

Headlines 29 December, 2017

Cyprus presidential race begins as nine candidates submit bids

The race for the Cyprus presidency has begun in earnest, in an election that, once again, could hold the key to the island’s feuding Greek and Turkish communities finally uniting.

29/12/2017- On Friday, nine candidates including the incumbent president, Nicos Anastasiades, formally submitted bids to contest the race, the first round of which is scheduled for 28 January. After registering his nomination in Nicosia, the island’s ethnically split capital, Anastasiades told the assembled crowd he had a vision for “a fully European country, and especially a truly free and independent country”. Anastasiades, whose campaign motto is “stability and certainty”, is widely viewed as the frontrunner but not tipped to win outright in the first round, in which case a vote between the top two candidates will be held the following Sunday. The prospect of a nail-biting second round on 4 February has not been ruled out if Nikolas Papadopoulos, who heads the centre-right Diko party, beats Stavros Malas, an independent fielded by the communist party Akel, to make it through to a run-off.

Papadopoulos is the son of the late former president Tassos Papadopoulos, and shares his hardline views on reunification. In 2004, Papadopoulos Sr urged Greek Cypriots to vote no in a referendum on a UN plan to bring together the two halves of the island. Addressing supporters on Friday, Papadopoulos said that if victorious, he would use his five-year term in office to “end failed policies and … restore dignity back to our people”. In an Anastasiades-Papadopoulos run-off, much would depend on which way Akel would go as kingmaker. “The big question in these elections is who Anastasiades will face in the second round,” said the veteran Cyprus expert James Ker-Lindsay. “Akel, like Anastasiades’ Disy [party], may be moderate and pro-solution but it also has a history of jumping into bed with Diko if it means winning ministerial posts.”

Anastasiades, 71, has made reunification of the tiny Mediterranean island a top priority, with confidants telling the Guardian that peace negotiations would be relaunched by the summer if the leader is re-elected. Talks described as the “best chance ever” of resolving the west’s longest-running diplomatic dispute collapsed spectacularly in July last year amid angry scenes between Greek and Turkish Cypriots in the Swiss mountain resort where they were being held. “A solution is basically there,” said a local commentator, Kyriakos Pierides. “It does not require too much, just political will to sit down and finalise it.” For the first time, a far-right party, Elam, will also contest the presidential election after successfully winning two seats in the 56-seat Greek Cypriot parliament in May 2106. A copycat version of Greece’s neo-nazi party, Golden Dawn, the extremist force has moulded itself as the only authentic opponent of the bi-zonal, bi-communal federation envisaged in settlement talks between Cyprus’s two ethnic communities.
© The Guardian*

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France Fails to Face Up to Racism (opinion)

By The Editorial Board

28/12/2017- Rokhaya Diallo is a French journalist whose most noted work addresses a concept that doesn’t officially exist in France. Ms. Diallo’s documentary “From Paris to Ferguson: Guilty of Being Black” (“Not Yo Mama’s Movement” in the United States) examines the pervasiveness of ethnic profiling in abusive police identity checks. She has also addressed a recent death and a brutal beating of black youths by police officers that led to a Black Lives Matter movement in France. She has called all this evidence of institutional racism. That view has led the right wing, and some on the left, to successfully pressure the government of President Emmanuel Macron to oust her from a government advisory council, exposing a hypocrisy at the heart of French nationalism.

The term institutional racism, which in French is called state racism, is seen by many as an affront to the colorblind ideal of a universalist French republic. In France, it is illegal to classify people by their race or ethnicity. Incredibly, the French education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, said last month that he would sue a teachers union for using the words “institutional racism” during education workshops in ethnically diverse Seine-St.-Denis northeast of Paris. A few weeks ago, Marie Ekeland, a venture capitalist recently named as the president of the French Digital Council, an independent board dealing with digital technologies and their impact on society, announced the diverse list of staff members she had put together, including Ms. Diallo, who is black. Prime Minister Édouard Philippe and the secretary of state for digital, Mounir Mahjoubi, approved the list.

Then, just days later, the government shamefully caved to criticism and dismissed Ms. Diallo. Ms. Ekeland, and most of the board members she had appointed, resigned in protest. The French Human Rights League condemned Ms. Diallo’s removal, saying it stifled debate and raised questions about the independence of the council. Mr. Macron has tried to project the image of a forward-looking, inclusive leader. This is a blot on that image and highlights the pressing need in France for an open debate on racism.

Correction: December 29, 2017
An earlier version of this editorial referred incorrectly to plans by the French education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, to file suit over the use of the term “institutional racism.” He said he would sue a teachers union, he did not say he would sue Ms. Diallo.
© The New York Times.

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Top German newspaper editor accuses churches of left-wing bias

Ulf Poschardt, head of one of Germany's leading newspapers, has sparked a social media row over supposed left-wing bias in church sermons during Christmas. Churches have denied the claim.

27/12/2017- The editor-in-chief of Die Welt, one of Germany's leading right-wing newspapers, triggered a social media meltdown on Christmas by complaining about supposed left-wing bias in Germany's Christmas midnight masses. Ulf Poschardt took to Twiiter to wonder aloud on Christmas Day: "Who would voluntarily go to a midnight mass if at the end of the sermon he thinks he spent the evening with the Jusos or the Green youth?" — referring to the youth organizations of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Green party, who both represent the left wing of their centrist parties. The statement came a few days after the leader of the far-right nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD), Alice Weidel, made a similar complaint to Focus magazine, by saying that churches had become too "political."

It was not clear which Christmas mass Poschardt attended, or if he was referring to a specific one at all, but the Christmas messages of many German church leaders have been marked by calls to solidarity with refugees, against commercialization of Christmas, and against property speculation, all of which were likely to irritate a supporter of Germany's pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP), as Poschardt once declared himself to be. One bishop in the eastern German city of Görlitz warned the German corporation Siemens against overzealous "capitalist thinking" in its plans to shut down a plant in the city.

Lefty Christians?
The fallout both for and against Poschardt's provocative statement was swift. A number of SPD and Green party politicians took to Twitter to answer the editor-in-chief, with the Green party's chairwoman Simone Peter tweeting in response, "Then maybe I really should go to a midnight mass again. Sounds good. And we need intervention more than ever with inequality, marginalization, and climate crisis." Ricarda Lang, spokeswoman for the Green youth organization, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Christmas Day, "I think it's fairly telling that it seems to annoy him extremely when humanity and solidarity is represented in church. For us, humanity is a task for the whole of society, for Ulf Poschardt it seems altruism is a leftist-green-infected fad for Jusos and the Green youth."

Poschardt, who did not respond to a DW request for comment, answered such criticism on Twitter by calling the backlash, "a march of the sanctimonious. The right people feel like they're being addressed. Great. Happy Holidays." Thanking another writer who agreed with him, he suggested on Wednesday that the point of his tweet was to express his surprise that "the sermon contained few theological, metaphysical elements and sounded purely political."

Church: A distorted image
A spokesman for the German Protestant Church organization (EKD) dismissed Poschardt's statement. "This distorted image is not in any way a fair reflection of the reality of tens of thousands of Christmas sermons all over Germany," he told DW in an email. "It misunderstands the spiritual justification of church statements on contemporary questions. Anyone who is pious must also sometimes be political. "And what is certain is this: the Christmas sermons in 2017 were as diverse as the reality of church people of the two big Christian churches in our country. I myself saw a Christmas sermon that referenced the anniversary of the Reformation and Martin Luther's decisive influence on our Christmas traditions."

Poschardt also garnered a fair share of Twitter mockery for his tweet. Under the hashtag #PoschardtEvangelium, or "Poschardt's gospel," users imagined Bible episodes from a capitalist perspective. As one user wrote, "There were around 5,000 men. Then Jesus took the bread, shared it in small pieces, and became rich on the sales, as demand was very high and supply very low; He did likewise with the fish."
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Greece: Lawyer's arrest for painting over neo-Nazi slogans prompts reaction

27/12/2017- Anti-fascist group KEERFA on Wednesday expressed outrage over the arrest earlier in the day of lawyer Takis Zotos for spray-painting over graffiti in support of neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn. The lawyer, who has acted as a representative for the prosecution in the ongoing trial against the party, was on holiday with his family at his wife’s home village when he spotted the pro-Golden Dawn slogans spray-painted on a wall along the highway leading into Karpenisi in central Greece. “I saw the fascist slogans at the entrance to Karpenisi, which was torched by the Nazis, as a challenge,” Zotos said in an announcement following his arrest for spray-painting over the slogans. “It is infuriating that the municipal authority had not erased it. We should not tolerate the descendants of Nazis dirtying our walls with Nazi symbols in martyred towns.” KEERFA said that Zotos’s arrest was “unconscionable” and accused the Hellenic Police (ELAS) of harboring neo-Nazi elements within its ranks. Zotos was released from custody on Wednesday but still faces charges of destroying public property.
© The Kathimerini.

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Swiss Politician Blames Gay Suicide Rate On Incontinence

"Their anal muscle is not holding up as it should," said Zurich council member Daniel Regli.

26/12/2017- A Swiss politician is facing criticism after blaming the high suicide rate among gay people on incontinence. During a debate on funding for sex ed, Zurich city council member Daniel Regli lashed out at Lust und Frust (“Pleasure and Pain”), a site that is supported by the city’s education department. Regli complained the site promoted promiscuity and homosexuality, but didn’t lay down the “fact” that “homosexuals with multiple partners take their lives between the ages of 30 and 40… because their anal muscle is not holding up as it should. ” His outburst prompted chaos in City Hall until Mayor Corine Mauch (below), an out lesbian, finally called for order. Regli has had to rescheduled appearances to avoid critics, some of whom have called for his resignation. In a statement, the progressive-minded Young Socialists said if Switzerland’s hate crime law included homophobic statements, he’d be up on charges.

Regli is a member of the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), a right-wing populist political party with strong Christian leanings. Claiming a doctor friend told him about this startling statistic, he told the news show 20 Minuten, “I said Saturday what nobody wants to hear.” Not even people in his own party: Swiss People’s Party (SVP) councilor Martin Götzl said he agreed with Regli’s assessment but insisted “his speech could have been more sensitive.” Even Party co-president Marco Denoth is done with Regli, stating “I do not want to see him anymore.” René Schegg, director of the Swiss LGBT organization Pink Cross, said the comment was beneath contempt: “Someone who is able, in a homophobic tirade, to make the link between the anal muscle of homosexuals and suicide is beyond any conception that I can have of a politician.” Schegg added that misinformation like this is the real issue for LGBT people in the country. “They are still not sufficiently accepted in society.”

Regli announced earlier this summer that he would not seek reelection in March.
© New Now Next

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Mosque targeted with homemade bomb in Sweden

26/12/2017- Swedish police are investigating an attack on a mosque with a homemade bomb as a hate crime, officers said Monday. The attack on the Islamic Cultural Center in Saffle, a town 45 kilometers (28 miles) southwest of Karsltad, left ball-bearings lodged in the walls of the center's prayer room. Broadcaster SVT reported that police had completed a preliminary investigation and were treating the attack as a hate crime. "Windows were broken and the walls were hit by explosives reinforced with BB pellets," center Chairman Abdihakem Adan said. "An average of 100 people come to the mosque and pray every day." Sweden is a strong draw for many migrants and about 15 percent of its population was born abroad. An estimated 100,000 ethnic Turks live in the Nordic country.
© The Daily Sabah.

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Swedish opposition to the far right: Talk to the hand

25/12/2017- Sweden’s new opposition leader Ulf Kristersson must do something neither of his two predecessors could manage if he wants to win next year’s election: Outmaneuver the far right. His progress will be followed across a Europe where center-right parties like his Moderates are losing support to radical, anti-immigration populist movements — in Sweden’s case, the Sweden Democrats (SD). Kristersson needs to stem that flow before he can tilt at the vulnerable-looking minority coalition of Social Democratic Prime Minister Stefan Löfven at the ballot box next fall. Two months into his tenure, Kristersson’s two-fold strategy is starting to take shape.

First, he is shifting the party policy closer to SD’s hard line on immigration. Delegates at the Moderate Party conference in October voted for permanent limits on the amount of time those granted asylum can stay in Sweden. New arrivals should also bear more of the cost of supporting family members who join them in Sweden, delegates decided. Second, Kristersson is reinstating the gap between the Moderate Party and SD, after an aborted period of dialogue. “We are not going to be working with the Sweden Democrats,” Kristersson told POLITICO in an interview in the Swedish capital. “There will be no talks.”

This new stance represents the Moderate Party’s third approach to SD, and the broader immigration question, in three years — a struggle for direction that is mirrored across Europe. From Finland to Germany, the parliamentary landscape has been reshaped by new political forces. As immigration to these parts of Europe has risen, upstart parties like SD have blamed national leaders for integration failures and called for border closures. They have often monopolized the debate and left their opponents baffled as to how to react.

The response has varied. In Denmark, the center-right government cooperates closely with the populist anti-immigration Danish People’s Party. In Norway and Finland, traditional centrist and right-wing parties have formed governing coalitions with the populists. Meanwhile, in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel is leaning toward another grand coalition with the Social Democrats rather than allow an increasingly popular anti-immigrant party a place in government. “Swedish party politics over the last two parliamentary mandate periods have, to a large extent, been about how to relate to SD,” said Niklas Bolin, a political scientist at Mid Sweden University.

‘Self-harm’
The stage for Sweden’s current debate over immigration was arguably set in 2011 when Fredrik Reinfeldt, a previous Moderate Party leader and two-term prime minister, pushed through a policy of liberalization which made his country one of the most welcoming in Europe for asylum seekers. His four-party coalition joined with the Green Party to get the necessary votes in parliament. “This is a decision which closes the door on xenophobic forces who want influence in this area,” he said then, in a veiled reference to SD. For four years, the border regime remained lax and ministers who criticized it were swiftly rebuked by Reinfeldt, who called on Swedes to “open their hearts” to immigrants in a speech before he lost power at an election in 2014.

Analysts and many Moderate insiders put that election failure down to Reinfeldt’s underestimation of the support for SD and its call for a cut in immigration to virtually zero. SD had entered parliament with 5.7 percent of the vote in 2010, surging to 12.9 percent in 2014. Since then it has vied with the Moderates for second spot in opinion polls, after Löfven’s Social Democrats. As the Moderate Party regrouped in 2015 and 2016, a surge in immigrants from Syria and other war-torn regions forced the Social Democrat-led government into a U-turn. The Moderates backed the shift, and under a new leader, Anna Kinberg Batra, they tried to seize the initiative by reaching out to SD in January 2017 and proposing talks.

The move backfired and voters began deserting the party. It quickly descended into infighting and Kinberg Batra resigned before she could fight her first election campaign. “Too many Moderates are only interested in what looks like self-harm,” she said. “Instead of talking about our policies, they are only insulting them and each other.”

Moderate revival
In October, Kristersson, 53, was handed the reins. A long-serving party member from near the town of Eskilstuna to the west of Stockholm, he rose through the ranks of the Moderate youth movement before becoming an MP, serving between 1991 and 2000. After working in communications for an IT consultancy, he returned to politics, becoming minister for social security under Reinfeldt and shadow finance minister under Kinberg Batra. After he was elected party leader, he immediately accelerated moves toward tougher immigration policies before shutting down the nascent cooperation with SD. SD leader Jimmie Åkesson posted a video message to Kristersson on the SD website shortly afterwards. He said that while he had hoped the Moderates were actually moving closer to SD’s positions, he now believed Kristersson was taking them back to the days of Reinfeldt, and talk of a tougher stance was empty rhetoric. “You haven’t understood anything,” he said.

Still, opinion polls suggest Kristersson’s early efforts to reposition his party have worked well, so far. They currently command about 22 percent support among voters, up from around 16 percent in June, according to a survey carried out by the pollster SIFO in the first half of December. Meanwhile, SD dropped to 16.5 percent support in December, down from 18 percent in June. The Social Democrats were steady on around 29 percent. “The polls this year seem to indicate that the Moderates have regained quite a few voters from SD,” said Anders Sannerstedt, a political scientist at Lund University. “It seems likely that the change of party leader had a strong effect, but it is also possible that the changes in refugee policy mattered.”

In a speech on December 15, Kristersson sought to portray the Moderate Party’s signature tax cuts and its greater emphasis on demands on the individual as the way forward for his country. Sweden’s economy may be humming, with falling unemployment and rising consumer and business confidence, but he said the current government is failing to address serious challenges, including violent crime and the integration of immigrants. “The government is just surfing on an economic upturn,” he told POLITICO. “They have lots of money, but they are not solving the fundamental problems we have.”
© Politico EU.

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Italian lawmakers snub vote on divisive citizenship law

A controversial bill that could grant Italian citizenship to about 800,000 children born in the country if they have spent five years in school was defeated in the Senate, newspapers said Sunday.

24/12/2017- Under the bill called "right of the soil" or Ius soli, children under 12 who have spent five years in school would qualify to be naturalised. The rule would also apply to children born to non-Italians. The Senate was near empty during the vote on Sunday, newspapers said. Currently, foreigners born in Italy can only apply for citizenship when they turn 18 and if they have lived in the country since birth. Only 116 of the 319 Senators were present in the house and the vote was deferred to January 9, by which time parliament is likely to have been dissolved ahead of legislative elections in March. The proposed law mooted by the government of Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni has seen fierce debate and sparked violent reactions, especially from the far-right New Force (Nuovo Forza) party and the anti-immigration Northern League.
© The Local - Italy.

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UK: Young girl pelted with stones in shocking anti-gypsy hate crime

A number of incidents of abuse against the travelling community have been exposed.

29/12/2017- A young girl was pelted with stones for being a traveller – one of a growing number of victims of anti-gypsy hate crimes in Scotland. Campaign group Amnesty revealed the shocking incident yesterday as they exposed a catalogue of discrimination and abuse faced by gypsy travellers. Amnesty’s Scotland programme director Kate Nevens said: “A colleague met a young gypsy traveller who spoke of being verbally abused on the street, and attacked by people throwing stones. “Many young people from gypsy traveller communities face barriers to accessing education – a very damaging abuse of their human rights which will have a negative impact on future generations. “A recent Scottish Social Attitudes survey found 34 per cent of people in Scotland believed a gypsy traveller to be an ‘unsuitable’ candidate to be a primary school teacher. This shows we clearly have a long way to go in the campaign to change the way people perceive Scottish gypsy travellers. “This ‘last acceptable form of racism’ should no longer be tolerated in Scotland.”

Community campaigner Jim Monaghan said he was appalled by the hate they face in Govanhill, Glasgow. He said: “More needs to be done to stamp it out. Even now, we have seen the Roma subjected to one of the oldest slurs that they have faced for centuries – that they buy and sell their own children. “A newspaper report claimed that there was evidence of Roma selling their children into prostitution.” Traveller Davie Donaldson recently gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament highlighting the prejudice against his community. University student Davie, 19, said views of his community had “remained stagnant” since the 80s. He said: “For me to be the only traveller I know at university is horrendous. “There are huge discrepancies in education between the settled community and the travelling community and that does act as a barrier for a lot of young travellers.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We will publish a Race Equality Action Plan by the end of this year, which will include provision for gypsy travellers and will be followed by a detailed programme of action.”
© The Daily Record

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UK: Banned group behind new neo-Nazi campaign recruiting in Scotland

System Resistance Network say they want to start a 'white power' revolution - but activists say they are just the latest front for National Action.

27/12/2017- A neo-Nazi group recruiting in Scotland are run by banned National Action, according to anti-racism campaigners. System Resistance Network say they want to start a “white power” revolution to bring down the system in the UK. Their members prompted a public demonstration in Dundee recently after putting up homophobic and anti-refugee posters in the city. And although the name is new, anti-fascist group Hope Not Hate say SRN are just the latest front for National Action – banned under anti-terrorist laws last year. After National Action were banned, they re-emerged as Scottish Dawn north of the Border and started recruiting again. Scottish Dawn were banned by the UK Government in September after we exposed their links to National Action following a seven-month investigation with website The Ferret.

SRN’s website is blatant about the group’s Nazi ideology, spouting hate-filled anti-immigrant propaganda. Hope Not Hate said: “SRN appeared about one month ago. It’s National Action under another new name. ​ “They’re all National Action...Scottish Dawn, NS131 and System Resistance – who use National Action-style artwork on their website.” Hope Not Hate named an individual who allegedly runs SRN but we cannot identify him for legal reasons. Other anti-racist groups have called for a ban on SRN. Zareen Taj, secretary of the Muslim Women’s Association of Edinburgh, said: “It is time to close down any self-professed Nazi group immediately so that their poisonous lies and hate messages do not add to the disinformation.” Unite Against Fascism said: “This tiny group of lunatics are clearly breaking race hate laws with their posters and social media posts. “The individuals within it should be prosecuted for their race hate speech.”
© The Daily Record

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UK: Far Right ‘Identitarian Movement’ Stickers are Seen in Multiple Locations

24/12/2017- A far right group called the ‘Identitarian Movement’ has been posting stickers and boards up in the last few days in areas in the United Kingdom which include Preston in Lancashire and in Dublin Ireland. One of the stickers states, “This barrier is to prevent Islamic lorry attacks”. The sticker on a lamp-post in Preston, (see second picture below), also highlighted the view of ‘defending Europe’ with the reader left to think about who Europe needed defending from – however, given the background of the group – refugees, Muslims and those not deemed to be ‘white or Christian or from Europe’ would be the groups this far right movement would be implying. The ‘Identitarian movement’ originated from France and is based on nationalist lines with the ‘preservation’ of a ‘white ethnic identity and culture’ at the heart of its extremist ideology. However, previous supporters have included former Klu Klux Klan leader David Duke.

If you come across any such stickers, do contact us in Tell MAMA and you can report material through THIS FORM in confidence.
© Tell Mama.

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Northern Ireland: Police investigate pork attack on Belfast Islamic centre

Local MP condemns attack in which pork was forced through letterbox of Islamic Centre in south Belfast

24/12/2017- Police in Northern Ireland are treating as a hate crime an incident in which pork was forced through the letterbox of an Islamic centre on Christmas Eve.
Raied al-Wazzan, the treasurer of the Islamic Centre in south Belfast, described those responsible as “ignorant people”. He said: “We believe these people do not represent the vast majority of Northern Ireland. We have received many messages of support. They will not succeed. We have a very good relationship with all communities in Northern Ireland and we work hard with our outreach.” His colleague Anwar Macady said that it was the first time the centre had been attacked in such a way, and it was sad that it had happened on Christmas Eve.

“They’re supposed to be celebrating mercy and forgiveness. I think this man is only representing himself, and a handful of people who may support him,” Macady said. “We know that this person doesn’t represent the wider society of Northern Ireland and we are very thankful for the people who sent us messages to tell us the message of support.” Emma Little-Pengelly, the DUP MP for south Belfast, condemned those responsible. “Attacking our small Muslim community in south Belfast is completely wrong, achieves nothing and is entirely misdirected,” she said. In August an Islamic centre in Newtownards, Co Down, was subjected to a racist attack when a pig’s head was left on its doorstep.
© The Guardian*

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Austrian far-right condemns international call for boycott of its cabinet members

Austria's far-right on Friday said an open letter calling for the boycott of its new cabinet members was a "transparent manouevre" and a "last-ditch attempt of the united left".

29/12/2017- The anti-immigration Freedom Party (FPOe) has six cabinet members -- including the heads of the interior, foreign and defence ministries -- in Austria's new conservative coalition government after October elections that saw voters move to the right. "Do not turn a blind eye: The heirs of Nazism have come into a position of power in the new Austrian government," said the open letter, published on Thursday on French newspaper Le Monde's website. Led by European Grassroots Antiracist Movement president Benjamin Abtan, the statement was signed by international figures including former French and Spanish foreign ministers.

FPOe secretary-general Harald Vilimsky said in a statement Friday that the "so-called" boycott came from "retired leftist politicians trying to get publicity". "No serious current politician will attach importance to these voices from the political past," said Vilimsky. The letter was "the last-ditch attempt of the united left to do harm to the new Austrian government", he added. Vilimsky said FPOe ministers, who were sworn in mid-December were "honourable, competent and beyond reproach". Signatories of the letter include former French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, former Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, "Nazi-hunters" Serge and Beate Klarsfeld, Nobel Peace Prize winner and former East Timorese president Jose Ramos-Horta, as well former Canadian prime minister Kim Campbell.
© The Local - Austria.

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Open letter urges boycott of far right in Austrian Cabinet

A group including former French and Spanish foreign ministers calls for action against ‘the fatal ideology of hatred.’

29/12/2017- A group including former European foreign ministers is calling for a boycott of Austria’s new, far-right Cabinet members, referring to them as the “heirs of Nazism” and criticizing “silence and apathy” on the issue. In an open letter published in French newspaper Le Monde on Thursday, former Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos, former French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell and others urged European leaders to take action. “Let’s not turn our eyes away: The heirs of Nazism have come into power in the new Austrian government,” the letter states. “We are all concerned as we are all being threatened by the fatal ideology of hatred.”

The letter comes in response to newly sworn-in Chancellor Sebastian Kurz forming a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) after October’s election, making Austria the only Western European nation with a government that includes an anti-immigrant, populist force. The FPÖ nominated six Cabinet members, including the leaders of the defense and interior ministries. The letter’s authors called on national leaders to refuse to attend meetings with or receive FPÖ ministers, and also urged politicians to “boycott” Austria’s control of the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union next year between July and December. Other signatories on the letter include Nobel Peace Prize winner and former president of East Timor, José Ramos-Horta, as well as Serge and Beate Klarsfeld, who are known for their investigation into and prosecution of Nazi crimes.

FPÖ General Secretary Harald Vilimsky criticized the letter in a statement Friday, calling it an “obvious maneuver” and a “last-ditch effort by the united left” to try to hurt the new Austrian government.
© Politico EU.

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Help refugees wherever they come from, Austria's Kurz says

Austria’s new Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, called for an end to “failed” attempts to achieve a quota system for distributing asylum seekers around the European Union and urged new efforts to help refugees in their country of origin.

24/12/2017- When he was foreign minister, Kurz, a conservative now governing in coalition with the far-right Freedom Party, was a strong critic of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to open Germany’s borders to more than a million fleeing migrants in 2015. Since becoming Chancellor this week, he has aligned himself with central European neighbors like Hungary and the Czech Republic in opposing German-backed proposals to distribute asylum seekers around EU member states. "Forcing states to take refugees doesn’t take Europe any further. The discussion makes no sense,” he told Germany’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper. “Migrants who set off for Europe don’t want to go to Bulgaria or Hungary. They want to go to Germany, Austria or Sweden.”

Instead of doubling down on what he termed a “failed” policy, Kurz called for the EU to support, “perhaps militarily”, efforts to help migrants in their countries of origin or in neighboring states. “If that isn’t possible, then they should be helped in safe areas on their own continent,” he said. “The EU should support that, perhaps even organize it, and back it militarily.” It was not clear from the interview extracts, published by the newspaper, what kind of military support he envisaged. But European leaders have on occasion suggested the EU contribute to peacekeeping operations to stabilize conflicts in Africa.

The question of how to deal with streams of migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa also divides Merkel’s conservatives and the Social Democrats (SPD) as they prepare for talks on forming a new government. Hard-line members of Merkel’s conservative camp demand tight absolute caps on the numbers of refugees allowed to enter Germany each year, while a senior SPD official on Saturday suggested local authorities around Europe be paid to house refugees.
© Reuters.

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Headlines 22 December, 2017

Netherlands: Anti-Islam PVV to participate in 30 municipalities' elections

22/12/2017- The PVV will be participating in the municipal elections of 30 municipalities in March, the party announced on Friday. PVV leader Geert Wilders initially planned to participate in 60 municipal elections, but previously already said that this will not happen because the party is struggling to find good candidates, RTL Nieuws reports. "On 21 March millions of Dutch people can vote for a party that also locally is the only one that really stands up for our culture, our identity, our freedom and therefore against Islamization. We will continue to build on that strengthened basis in the coming years", Wilders said. The candidate lists will later be announced. The PVV is currently only in the city council of The Hague and Almere. The PVV is participating in all provinces. Of the four large Dutch cities, Amsterdam is the only one the anti-Islam party is not taking part in.

Municipal elections the PVV is taking part in by province:
Drenthe - Emmen
Flevoland - Urk, Lelystad, Almere
Noord-Holland - Den Helder, Zaanstad, Purmerend, Zandvoort
Zuid-Holland - Rotterdam, The Hague, Zoetermeer, Nissewaard, Dordrecht
Overijssel - Enschede, Almelo, Twenterand, Hengelo
Gelderland - Arnhem
Groningen - Pekela, Delfzijl
Friesland - Achtkarspelen
Noord-Brabant - Rucphen, Den Bosch
Zeeland - Terneuzen, Tholen
Utrecht - Utrecht, Stichtse Vecht
Limburg - Venlo, Maastricht, Sittard-Geleen
© The NL Times.

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Netherlands: Debate about Islam should be put on hold, says Rotterdam mayo

22/12/2017- The debate about Islam in the Netherlands has become so tense that it should be put on hold for a while, Rotterdam’s Muslim mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb has told Trouw in an interview. ‘Some debates should wait until the time is right,’ Aboutaleb said. Some politicians and ‘opinion makers’ are forcing the issue with ‘steam and boiling water,’ he said. ‘The Netherlands’ intellectuals consider the time ripe for certain developments but most of the Dutch are not that ready. I am a real believer in the gradual approach.’ While Aboutaleb supports increasing the visibility of religion, he does not compare the Muslim call to prayer to church bells.

There is a long tradition of Christianity in the Netherlands, and this is why the city council does not organise events over the Christmas break, he said. Islam has had a foothold in the Netherlands for 50 years and Muslims are now so emancipated that they are able to build their own mosques, the mayor points out. ‘These sorts of issues are part of social developments and at a certain point they may become more accepted. In 10 or 20 years, we may come to the point that more is done to mark the end of Ramadan, for example.’ The same goes for the debate about headscarves and police uniform, said Aboutaleb, who supports the status quo. ‘There is no point in having this debate now,’ he said.

Outspoken
Aboutaleb came to the Netherlands at the age of 15 as the son of an imam. He became the first Muslim mayor in the Netherlands when he took over the helm in Rotterdam in 2009. In 2015, he broke with the Labour party line and said Dutch nationals who have decided they want to travel to Syria to join Islamic militias should be allowed to go but should be banned from coming back to the Netherlands. ‘I want to make sure those who are considering going to Syria know exactly what is at risk,’ Aboutaleb told the AD at the time. ‘If you think this society is depraved, then go. But there is no way back. Hand over your passport and risk getting bombed.’ Aboutaleb also hit the headlines after the terrorist attacks in Paris when he said that the time is right to wipe out ISIS.
© The Dutch News

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Yugoslavia war tribunal in The Hague closes its doors after 24 years

The Yugoslavia war crimes tribunal in The Hague closes its doors on Thursday after 24 years of hearings.

21/12/2017- In total, the tribunal has dealt with 161 complaints of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed by soldiers, governments and private citizens. In the 24 years since it opened, the tribunal has handed down 90 rulings, found 19 people not guilty, heard from 4,650 witnesses and carried out hearings on 10,800 days. In total, 14 countries have been involved in the punishment of perpetrators and 13 have extradited suspects to be tried. The tribunal was the first court to undertake the prosecution for the gravest international crimes since the post-World War II Nuremberg and Tokyo trials. It was set up by the UN security council in 1993, just two years after the start of the Yugoslavia conflict. The first suspect, Bosnian Serb Dusko Tadic, appeared in the court in 1995 and was eventually sentenced to 20 years in jail. The tribunal went on to put the former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milošević, the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić and Gen Ratko Mladic in the dock. Its closing sessions were marred by the courtroom suicide of the Croatian commander Slobodan Praljak, who swallowed potassium cyanide after his appeal was rejected.

Legal landscape
‘Over the past two decades, [the tribunal] has irreversibly changed the landscape of international criminal and humanitarian law,’ the tribunal’s website says. ‘In 1993, I think, no one believed that we would have been able to bring justice to anyone […] We have proved exactly the opposite,’ ICTY president Carmel Agius told UN News. The court has completed all judicial work, despite complex challenges, including the difficulty to bring witnesses from abroad, translation and interpretation issues, and a lack of cooperation from countries from which help was needed, he said.

Consensus
The ICTY’s legacy, international law professor Philippe Sands told the Guardian, paves the way for a broader international consensus on war crimes justice. ‘The breakup of Yugoslavia has been a catalyst with very significant consequences,’ he said. ‘The experience has been mixed. It hasn’t brought tranquility and reconciliation to the region but it has delivered … important judgments on individuals.’ The tribunal’s overall record, he said, ‘reflects the significant but limited function that international justice can play in resolving longstanding political differences. It’s one tool in an armoury.’
© The Dutch News

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Sacking of black journalist sparks race row in France

Does France have a problem talking about racism? After a prominent black journalist was sacked from an internet advisory body for being too controversial, anti-racism campaigners think so.

21/12/2017- France's National Digital Council (CNNum) is in chaos after almost all its members resigned in protest Tuesday at a government decision to force Rokhaya Diallo out, apparently yielding to criticism over her appointment. The 39-year-old writer has been an outspoken critic on issues such as police stop-and-searches of young black and Arab men and the country's ban on full-face veils, and has described France as "institutionally racist". Digital Minister Mounir Mahjoubi -- himself a rare non-white face in the cabinet, who led the CNNum before quitting to join Emmanuel Macron's presidential campaign -- said Diallo had to go because the controversy had become a distraction. "After this nomination, everyone forgot what the CNNum was supposed to be doing," he told Le Figaro newspaper.

For her critics, including the rightwing lawmaker Valerie Boyer, as well as some on the left, Diallo's defence of the Islamic veil as a "mark of femininity" in secular France made her inappropriate for a government position -- as did her repeated criticism of France as rife with discrimination. "The country sees itself as a white country," Diallo told Al-Jazeera this year. Her support for "nonwhite" anti-racism events is also problematic for many in France, where the concept of communities isolating themselves is seen as deeply opposed to the ideal of everyone uniting around shared republican values of liberty, equality and fraternity. But anti-racism campaigners say this makes it difficult to discuss problems around race, such as widespread complaints of discrimination in the workplace, particularly from those living in immigrant-heavy suburbs.

It is illegal to collect data on ethnicity in France -- a principled effort to build a colour-blind society -- but activists say this also makes it harder to fight racism. "To explain that France is a country that is structurally racist ultimately gives rise to the idea that there is a form of apartheid in France, and that idea is unacceptable," said Amine El-Khatmi of the anti-racism group Republican Spring.

New generation of activists
Axiom, a rapper who has called French people "pigs" and rapped about race and deprivation in the suburbs, was also forced off the CNNum committee after the government ordered an overhaul. He and Diallo were among 30 people from business, academia and civil society appointed just a week ago to the committee, which advises the government on preparing for a digital future. All except four have now resigned, in an embarrassment for Macron's centrist government. "At what point, in our country, do we not want to hear dissident voices?" said its chairwoman, the start-up investor Marie Ekeland. The French League of Human Rights deplored the move to remove Diallo and Axiom, saying: "In a democracy, the state must respect pluralism of opinions."

Raised in the Paris suburbs by Senegalese and Ghanaian parents, media-savvy Diallo is at the vanguard of a vocal new generation of anti-racism campaigners. She founded a group in 2007 called Les Indivisibles which aimed to fight prejudice through humour, notably with a tongue-in-cheek annual award ceremony for the year's most racist remarks. She has criticised long-established anti-racism groups, branding them "clubs for white intellectuals, disconnected from the ground and from working-class neighbourhoods". "And they've completely failed to crack the internet," she said.

'I am a citizen'
Diallo argues that it is ridiculous to think of events reserved for minorities as a form of racial segregation -- for her, it's about giving people who are suffering from a shared problem a chance to talk about it. "I don't know anyone who isn't alcoholic but insists on going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in the name of the Republic," she once quipped. But such events have repeatedly caused an outcry in France, including in May when Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo called for a black women's festival to be scrapped. A "decolonisation summer camp" in the city of Reims elicited similar outrage last year. Diallo, meanwhile, does not appear likely to stop railing against what she sees as endemic racism. "I am a citizen," she told Cnews television on Wednesday. "Even if I sometimes criticise my country very heavily, I do it as a citizen."
© AFP.

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Hungarian left’s far-right dilemma

Activists debate controversial tie-up to pose threat to Orbàn.

21/12/2017- To defeat Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in next spring’s general election, some Hungarian leftists are advocating the previously unthinkable — working with the far-right Jobbik party. With Orbán’s Fidesz party far ahead in the opinion polls, these left-wingers believe the only way to beat the champion of “illiberal democracy” is for opposition forces to team up, even if that means working with people they have long considered beyond the pale. Their stance is fiercely opposed by other leftists and liberals.  In a sign of Hungary’s shifting political boundaries, an eclectic group of around 1,000 people gathered in front of Fidesz headquarters in Budapest last Friday evening to protest against what they say is an illegal government crackdown on Jobbik ahead of the election. The party is facing a possible fine of over €2 million — more than it has in its coffers — for alleged campaign finance irregularities.

Along with Jobbik leaders, high-ranking figures from the Greens and liberal opposition parties were also in the crowd. Not all of them support directly working with Jobbik but for the first time they were willing to be seen alongside the party’s voters and leaders. Some protesters carried Jobbik party flags and even a few red and white Arpad flags — associated with Hungary’s Nazi-allied Arrow Cross regime. Others waved European Union flags. For left-wingers who favor at least informal cooperation with Jobbik, the tactic is a necessary evil to tackle what they see as a bigger threat to Hungarian democracy: Orbán’s consolidation of power.

Orbàn’s Fidesz is a member of the center-right European People’s Party and sees itself as a conservative defender of European values. But Orbán’s anti-Muslim comments, his refusal to take in refugees, his crackdowns on NGOs and on Budapest’s Central European University as well as his tirades against the European Commission mean his opponents see him in a different light. “Right now Hungary has a far-right government, even a neo-fascist government,” said Márton Gulyás, a prominent left-wing activist who has been campaigning for the opposition to work together. “Of course it’s sad that the second-largest opposition party is also a far-right party,” he said. But he argued that Jobbik was now “a moderate far-right party” — an assessment that chimes with Jobbik’s own efforts to recast itself as a milder alternative to Orbán.

Simple math
The math is straightforward: Polls show that there is no chance of Orbán losing the election unless Jobbik and Hungary’s left-wing come together — and even then, they face an uphill struggle. A survey last month by pollster Median found 39 percent of all adults — and 56 percent of those who know who they will vote for in the election — support Fidesz. Jobbik lies second, with the support of 11 percent of all adults and 15 percent of those who know how they’ll vote in the election, to be held in April or May. Multiple liberal and left-wing parties are polling in the single digits, while 30 percent of the population is undecided. Hungary has a mixed voting system, whereby half of parliament is elected via party lists and the other half in a single round of voting in individual electoral districts.

“If you want to defeat Fidesz, then you have to collect as many seats as you can in the individual districts, and in this you need to somehow cooperate with Jobbik,” said Gulyás, whose left-leaning movement has vowed to fundraise for district-level opinion polling and ask voters to opt for whichever candidate is most likely to win against Fidesz — even if that means voting for a Jobbik politician. But many left-wing voters and politicians believe it would be immoral to support a party with a history of xenophobia and involvement in paramilitary groups. “Jobbik is the party which burnt EU flags a couple of years back, this is a party which wanted to list Jews,” Ferenc Gyurcsány, a former prime minister and current head of the liberal-leaning Democratic Coalition (DK) party, wrote in an email to POLITICO. “Jobbik is everything we fight against. The DK under no circumstances would cooperate with Jobbik. The same goes for our voters.”

Reaching out
Jobbik has made a significant effort to reach out to voters who just a few years ago would have recoiled at the idea of voting for them. “Of course we have a past, and we do have certain things in our past which we’re not very proud of,” said Márton Gyöngyösi, a Jobbik leader and MP, best known for strongly pro-Russian views and a 2012 anti-Semitic speech in which he called for Hungarian Jews to be listed. These days, in line with Jobbik’s effort to draw a line under its past, Gyöngyösi distances himself from that speech. “It was a bad statement, full stop. And I apologized for it,” Gyöngyösi said on a recent afternoon in his office, down the street from parliament.

Raised primarily in the Arab world and South Asia, where his father served as a communist-era Hungarian trade official, and educated at Trinity College, Dublin, Gyöngyösi has been one of Jobbik’s intellectual architects for over a decade. “Things are rarely black and white, and I think that’s one of the things that we learned,” said Gyöngyösi. “I know that we still have some homework to do, and we still have a credibility issue.” Gyöngyösi suggested Jobbik was now closer to the European mainstream than Orbán. “Although we reject the redistribution of migrants in Europe on the basis of quotas determined by Brussels, we also warned the government of making statements that basically spark Islamophobia,” said Gyöngyösi. “We cannot go against a world religion … Moderate Islam is our ally in fighting extremism.”

Jobbik’s leaders also point to their recent support for embattled NGOs and the Central European University and their opposition to a government campaign against financier and philanthropist George Soros. They have also teamed up with trade unions to fight wage inequality between Western and Eastern Europe. The party has even begun to distance itself from Western European right-wing Euroskeptic parties. Gyöngyösi says France’s National Front and the Alternative for Germany now have more in common with Fidesz than Jobbik.

Identity problem
Many outside the party are not convinced, however. While some of Jobbik’s most extreme figures have been expelled, others remain. The party also maintains a pro-Kremlin stance, openly opposing EU sanctions and supporting Russia’s role in the Paks II nuclear power plant project — albeit while calling for more transparency. The Hungarian government, meanwhile, sees Jobbik — which currently enjoys the support of a powerful former Fidesz-allied oligarch, Lajos Simicska — as its primary political threat and has taken to accusing the party of both being too far right and not right-wing enough. In Fidesz’s view, left and liberal-leaning figures who support cooperation with Jobbik are hypocrites, while Jobbik is seen as having abandoned its nationalist identity. Government politicians and pro-government media often point to anti-Semitic and anti-Roma statements by Jobbik local officials as proof that the party’s transformation is not credible.

A spokesperson for the Hungarian government did not respond to questions for this article. Analysts believe Jobbik is taking a big risk with its strategy of presenting a more moderate front. While some left-wing voters now view the party less negatively, its overall support is not growing. “On the opposition side, and that includes Jobbik, they are waiting for a miracle,” said Péter Krekó, director of the Budapest-based Political Capital think tank. As Jobbik tries to rebrand, some of the party’s politicians and core voters are becoming alienated. A party that once had a clear — although often unpalatable — message now has an identity problem. “The danger for Jobbik is that it becomes a boring party,” said Krekó.In Fidesz’s view, left and liberal-leaning figures who support cooperation with Jobbik are hypocrites, while Jobbik is seen as having abandoned its nationalist identity.

Government politicians and pro-government media often point to anti-Semitic and anti-Roma statements by Jobbik local officials as proof that the party’s transformation is not credible. A spokesperson for the Hungarian government did not respond to questions for this article. Analysts believe Jobbik is taking a big risk with its strategy of presenting a more moderate front. While some left-wing voters now view the party less negatively, its overall support is not growing. “On the opposition side, and that includes Jobbik, they are waiting for a miracle,” said Péter Krekó, director of the Budapest-based Political Capital think tank. As Jobbik tries to rebrand, some of the party’s politicians and core voters are becoming alienated. A party that once had a clear — although often unpalatable — message now has an identity problem. “The danger for Jobbik is that it becomes a boring party,” said Krekó.
© Politico EU.

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Czech Roma reclaim Holocaust site from pig farmers

Czech activists have secured a deal to have a pig farm removed from the site of a Nazi-era concentration camp for Roma. With extremism on the rise, the victory may be only symbolic, reports Tim Gosling in Usti nad Labem.

20/12/2017- A grubby eight-year-old girl jumps through the December dusk from a second story window. Her bare feet land on a heaving morass of rubbish barely a meter below. Amid the feces and rat-infested detritus rising on all sides of the block in the Predlice ghetto, home to dozens of Roma families in the northwestern Czech city of Usti nad Labem, it's hard to believe this is the European Union in the 21st century. The squalor is stunning. The family of Roma rights activist Josef Miker has suffered worse. In the 1940s many relatives were sent to the Lety concentration camp for Roma, 160 kilometers (99 miles) to the south. Official figures show that of 1,308 prisoners registered, 327 perished. Five hundred more were transferred to Auschwitz. Miker, however, insists testimonies prove thousands more were murdered at the camp, which was run by Czechs under the auspices of the Nazis.

Over 90 percent of the Czech Roma population is estimated to have been wiped out during the Roma Holocaust. Yet, while many former Nazi camps now host memorial museums, a pig farm has sat on Lety since the 1970s. Over the last two decades, a campaign to clear the site has become symbolic in the struggle for Roma rights — and a lightning rod for extremists. In November, the Czech government signed a deal to buy the farm for 451 million Czech crowns (€17.5 million) from AGPI. The company has remained neutral throughout the fight, say activists, despite protests and blockades. Miker, whose NGO Konexe was a leading actor in the bid to shift the farm and allow excavation of suspected mass graves, praises it as a hard fought and symbolic victory. However, with extremism on the rise across Europe, he's wary of the future.

Hate from on high
Far-right parties made significant gains in October's Czech elections. Meanwhile populist billionaire Andrej Babis pushed an anti-migrant stance as he took the most votes. Polls show just 2 percent of Czechs would welcome refugees fleeing war. The backlash against the Lety deal has been vicious. In one particularly shocking incident, a picture of a primary school class published online and featuring Czech, Romani and Arab children reaped calls for violence via social media.  Such hate is not unusual on Czech social media, notes Miroslav Mares, who studies extremism at Masaryk University in Brno. It has a symbiotic relationship to politics. The infection reaches to the very top. As the Lety deal was being signed, President Milos Zeman called Roma "unadaptables," a common euphemism for "work-shy parasites."

The rhetoric only deteriorates further down the ladder. The secretary of the far-right SPD, which won 10 percent of the vote, reportedly introduced himself in the new parliament by calling for Jews and Roma to be shot at birth. SPD leader Tomio Okamura slammed the Lety deal as over-priced and claimed Lety was a labor camp, not a concentration camp. The communist KSCM joined the complaints. Babis, who tends to blow with the wind of public opinion, has been flirting with the SPD and KSCM as he struggles to form a government. The former finance minister was forced to apologize in 2015 for denying Lety was a concentration camp.

Roma are 'easier' for Czechs to hate
Though an important signal, the deal promises little progress for Roma rights on the ground. It was a cynical response to growing international pressure, Mares suggests; the EU recently noted the case. "The timing looks political," he remarks. "The new government can now blame the old to defend itself against the extremist parties." Ironically, the migrant crisis may also have helped. "The role of 'enemy' has moved to Islam somewhat," states the academic. However, Miroslav Broz of Konexe says that while he noticed the aggression aimed at Roma eased somewhat in 2015, they are now firmly back in the firing line. "Islam is too abstract. There are a few thousand Muslims in the Czech Republic, but over 250,000 Roma," he points out.

Miker still insists the deal is vital for the effort. "Lety has long been an obstacle for Roma equality," he states. "Denial of the Holocaust and racism are strongly connected. You'll never integrate a minority on whose genocide site you dump pig shit." While that waste will soon be hauled away, concern remains over what will eventually rise at Lety. "The fight is not over," Miker announces. "We are worried that there will be problems in building a memorial. On top of that, powerful Roma business interests are already seeking to make money out of the deal."

Out of the ghetto
In March, AGPI will hand the site to the Museum of Romani Culture, and armed with another 120 million crowns, the state institution will starting clearing the farm. Plans for a memorial are vague. Spokesperson Kristina Kahoutova says whatever is eventually built, "it will not be big." On the one hand, she notes that a memorial to the Roma Holocaust opened in the summer at Hodonin u Kunstatu, the site of another camp near Brno. However, she also admits the political climate could take a toll. "We have a new government coming. It will depend on the finances, and that may depend on political opposition to the project." Mares suggests Lety could also be used to stoke hatred further. "The large sum paid by the government may spur anti-Roma feeling, and the extreme parties will seek to use that," he says. "Meanwhile, Roma activists will now need to find a new rallying point."

Miker has little doubt, however, regarding the next challenge. Despite EU legal action, Roma across the region are still often sent to special schools for children with learning difficulties. The exclusion and poverty perpetuated by such policy fuels ghettos such as Predlice. "Education segregation is the next big fight," he declares.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Serbia, Croatia Face Lawsuits Over Migrant Girl's Death

After a Croatian NGO filed a lawsuit over the death of a six-year-old Afghan girl who died close to the Serbia-Croatia border, Serbian authorities may face similar legal action.

20/12/2017- The Asylum Protection Centre, an NGO in Serbia, has told BIRN it is considering launching a lawsuit against Serbia over the death of Medina Husein, an Afghan migrant who lost her life, aged six, near the Serbia-Croatia border earlier in November. “Institutions are treating this case [the death] as if it were not a child but some kind of less worthy being. This case is one sad fate – a child with a name and surname, and we want the truth,” Rados Djurovic, from the Asylum Protection Centre, told BIRN. Croatia's Center for Peace Studies, which works in partnership with the Serbian NGO, on Tuesday said Medina’s family was launching a court case against unknown police officers in the country. Both organisations have decided to legally represent the family in order to clarify all the circumstances of Medina’s death.

Medina was killed on November 21 when she was hit by a passing train near the border town Sid in Serbia. This incident shocked the international medical humanitarian organisation, Medecins Sans Frontieres, MSF, which posted on Twitter on November 22: “Yet another totally preventable death on the 'closed' Balkan Road. A 6 y/o [years old] kid was hit by a train last night after the family was pushed back from #Croatia”. The Croatian Center for Peace Studies said that before the tragedy occurred, the Afghan family had already reached Croatia and had asked for asylum. “But the police, violating their right to access to international protection, returned them to the railway and sent them back to Serbia,” it said.

The lawyer for the family, Sanja Bezbradica Jelavic, said the family with six children had requested Croatian protection and asylum, but police “refused to act according to regulations. “The family was instructed to return to Serbia by night in the direction of the railway line. They [police] refused the mother's request to stay overnight with the children because the children were tired and cold, which resulted in a fatal consequence,” a written statement of the lawyer said. Djurovic said his NGO was still awaiting answers to questions about the incident, sent two weeks ago to the Serbian border police.

The family told Aljazeera on December 6 that Serbian authorities waited four days to confirm their young relative's death and had provided them with just four bottles of water to perform Muslim funeral rites. “Despite the wish of her family, who wanted to bury Medina in Belgrade, the Serbian authorities decided to bury her in Sid,” Djurovic said, adding that the Serbian authorities also provided no documentation after the death of their daughter. He added that the Serbian Asylum Protection Centre and the Croatian Center for Peace Studies wanted to know why refugees were still being illegally pushed back to Serbia; data from his NGO show that thousands of people have been pushed back to Serbia across its borders with other Balkan countries.

Serbian and Croatian NGOs also sent a message to Medina's family, in which they said they were not only pressing the charges on their behalf, but for “all children and all others who are in a similar situation, so that such a tragedy never happens again”. According to Aljazeera, Croatia's interior ministry confirmed the death, describing it as "regrettable" but denying that Croatian border police were responsible. The government says the family returned to Serbia voluntarily. Serbia's Commissariat for Refugees and Migration told BIRN that it had provided a grave site and a funeral for the girl, and that all other questions regarding the incident should be sent to the Serbian Interior Ministry, which did not reply by the time of publication.
© Balkan Insight

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Neo-Nazis are trying to spread hatred through comedy. This isn’t funny (opinion)

It’s never OK to laugh at racist jokes – this is how neo-Nazi websites, such as the Daily Stormer, try to normalise their message
By Tauriq Moosa


19/12/2017- “The unindoctrinated should not be able to tell if we are joking or not.” So states the writing guide of the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer. As expressly outlined by the leaked guide, the goal is to make the site’s ideas digestible, palatable and visible to those outside its toxic sphere. By muddying the waters of Nazis’ hate, a greater number will drink. While none of this is surprising to those of us who have been targets of Nazis and the alt-right, it’s useful to have their goals so plainly, if disgustingly, outlined. It helps show media sites contemplating profiles of white supremacists – like Mother Jones or the New York Times – that they’re only aiding them by putting forward their unchallenged ideas.

And it’s also important as it reveals how Nazis use satire, humour or “lolz” as partial immunity for their hate, allowing them tolerance from those who would (or should) otherwise repudiate it. As the guide states: “Packing our message inside of … humour can be viewed as a delivery method. Something like adding cherry flavour to children’s medicine.” If you’re a person of colour, this might already strike a familiar chord: you’ve no doubt experienced bigotry from supposedly not racist people in the form of “humour” or “satire”. By placing bigotry in such a shell many white people seem to believe they can’t or shouldn’t be criticised. As the Daily Stormer guide says: “When using racial slurs, it should come across as half-joking – like a racist joke that everyone laughs at …”

If you’ve ever been the only person of colour at a social gathering, you’ll know what it’s like when a casual racist joke arises. “Everyone” laughs because of power dynamics, not the joke’s genius. People of colour have been told not to be hypersensitive throughout our lives, that it’s just humour, don’t be a wet sock, it’s just words, and so on. When white people wield the conch of humour, people of colour are supposed to just endure the racism that comes out and laugh at the humour encasing it. This is the model neo-Nazis view as fertile ground for spreading hate. Bigotry obtaining immunity under the banner of humour is so widespread, there’s even a popular card game called Cards Against Humanity, centred on that premise. (The company even refers to it as “a party game for horrible people”.) This stepping over lines of decency is boastingly called being “politically incorrect” or “ironic racism”.

Too many people have convinced themselves that such humour is daring for targeting marginalised groups, or somehow sending those who “do it for real”. This is exactly what neo-Nazis want. It’s lifted directly from their writing guide to make hatred digestible, to spread it via normalisation and tolerance, via claims of humour’s immunity. Many white people have told me, sometimes proudly, that they mock all races, thus outlining a belief we’ve moved beyond racial inequality. But we haven’t: just ask the neo-Nazis and white supremacists marching openly in America’s streets, calling for the death of a group of people who aren’t like them.

Donald Trump built his platform on this idea of stepping on so-called political correctness – without really saying what the term meant. As Adam Serwer writes in a powerful essay for the Atlantic: “What Trump’s supporters refer to as political correctness is largely the result of marginalised communities gaining sufficient political power to project their prerogatives on to society at large. What a society finds offensive is not a function of fact or truth, but of power.” It’s not that these jokes are suddenly offensive, but that marginalised groups have a little more power to be heard. Many would rather complain about “political correctness” than wonder if they might be wrong. Here’s a hint: if your view aligns with a neo-Nazi writing guide, it’s probably wrong.

It’s too easy not to care about words, jokes and actions when you’re not the one affected by it. While I’m glad most white people seem to passionately oppose Nazis, that’s not a particularly high moral bar to pass. If you believe that Nazi ideology should be opposed, you can’t just ignore the way this ideology is spread. And normalisation through humour is a key part of that. People cannot get immunity because they couch their slurs in humour or because they believe they’re not racist, sexist or transphobic. Intention doesn’t equal reality, especially when it’s a reality lived by people unlike you. We should all be trying to figure out what counts as hurtful so we can avoid it in ourselves and use our own privilege to call it out when we see it.

That’s not oversensitivity, it’s that for far too long marginalised people’s concerns weren’t factored in. Now that our concerns are heard more, it undermines the status quo of whose considerations matter. Privileged people could continue their lives unaffected by whether their jokes hurt others. As Serwer noted in the same essay, this disjunctive alignment of consideration is why Trump is more outraged over kneeling athletes than murdered black children. Only one of those categories affects him and his base. You may not be racist, but attempts to be funny cannot give you permission to say bigoted things for effect. It’s the foot in the door true bigots need to make their hate palatable and widespread. As Louise Mirrer, the president and CEO of the New York Historical Society, noted about Nazis normalising antisemitism in children’s books: “You kind of lose the capacity to feel appalled. And then you just believe it.”

There are no such things as monsters, only people who hold monstrous beliefs. They weren’t born with those views. Someone spread them. And now we have access to a modern Nazi playbook on how they do it. Hatred should not be normalised and only we can prevent it. The Daily Stormer uses our complacency as fertile ground to further its agenda. It’s time we learned how the seeds of hatred are spread so we can stop them from blooming.
Tauriq Moosa is a South African writer focusing on ethics, justice, tech and pop culture
© Comment is free - Guardian.

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Italian newspaper editor cleared over ‘Islamic b***ards’ headline after terror attack

An Italian newspaper editor has been acquitted of wrongdoing over a headline printed after the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, which labelled the killers 'Islamic bastards'.

19/12/2017- Maurizio Belpietro published the headline on the front page of centre-right Italian daily Libero the morning after the attacks in which 130 people were killed, including one Italian. A court in Milan, where the publication is based, has now acquitted the editor of insulting a religious belief, aggravated by racial hatred, under article 403 of the Italian criminal code. If found guilty, Belpietro could have faced a fine of thousands of euros. Prosecutor Piero Basilone had requested a fine of €8,300 for what he described as "a generalized insult to one and a half million people of the Islamic faith, many of them victims of acts of terrorism", according to La Stampa. The trial took place after several Muslim citizens filed complaints to Milan's public prosecutor, and a local Islamic organization, Caim, formed a civil party and requested €350,000 in compensation.

Basilone further said that Belpietro was "perfectly aware" that his words would offend Muslims, though Belpietro has said the adjective 'bastardi' only referred to the individuals responsible for the killings, and pointed out that he had written 'Islamici bastardi' (Islamic bastards) rather than 'bastardi musulmani' (bastard Muslims). He defended the wording in an editorial at the time, writing: “Not all Muslims are terrorists and not all Catholics are peaceful. We didn't say all Muslims were terrorists: we wrote Islamic (adjective) bastards (noun) – the language is clear.” The charges were dismissed and the court is expected to make its motivation for the ruling public within the next two weeks. At the time, the article faced widespread criticism on social media, though several people spoke out to support Belpietro. In a tweet, the Northern League president of Lombardy Roberto Maroni called the headline a "perfect summary".

The Libero daily, founded in 2000, has a print circulation of around 80,000, according to figures from June. In 2016, Belpietro left the publication and founded his own daily paper, La Verità, with a circulation of around 70,000.
© The Local - Italy.

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Les Patriotes: How Le Pen’s ex-protégé hopes to win over French far right

For years, Florian Philippot was Marine Le Pen’s protégé, helping her rebrand France’s hardline National Front into a populist party. But bitter infighting over Europe saw him cut all ties and launch his own far-right alternative: Les Patriotes.

19/12/2017- On Monday morning, 36-year-old Philippot – Le Pen’s former vice president and most trusted adviser – inaugurated the headquarters of Les Patriotes (The Patriots), in Saint-Ouen, in northern Paris. The move comes just three months after Philippot claims he was more or less pushed out of the National Front (FN) after bitter disputes with Le Pen over whether the party ought to return to its more hardline, anti-immigrant past, or continue to push its more populist message, focusing instead on economic nationalism. During his eight years as Le Pen’s right-hand man, Philippot was key in helping her repair and soften the party’s image vis-à-vis the French; strategically moving it away from the racist ideology her Holocaust-denying father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, had once advocated, and making it more about protective economic policies that concerned a greater amount of voters. Philippot is also credited with helping the party soften its stance on issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion, and engineered the party’s plan to quit the euro.

Blamed for election loss
But what started out as an in-party movement after Le Pen began to waver on the party’s anti-euro stance during last spring’s presidential election, has in six short months morphed into a political party that now hopes to take a big bite out of Le Pen’s electorate, vowing to do “The best for France,” by not only quitting the euro, but also the European Union in a so-called “Frexit”. Critics, however, say that he is about to commit political suicide, presenting nothing but a watered-down version of the FN’s political agenda on most other, non-EU-related issues. Philippot, whose anti-euro sentiment had long irritated many FN members and which bore the brunt of the blame for Le Pen’s bitter loss to centrist Emmanuel Macron in the presidential run-off, announced his departure from the FN in September.

After being stripped of his role as the party’s chief of strategy and communication following his refusal to step down from the Les Patriotes movement. “I have no desire to be ridiculed, and I have no desire to do nothing. And so, of course, I’m leaving the National Front,” he announced on French broadcaster France 2, shortly after which he then took the first steps towards transforming his movement into a political party. His former mentor, Le Pen, barely smirked at his ambitions, telling France’s parliamentary channel LCP later the same day that: “All those who have taken that route have led a solitary adventure and ended up disappearing… I think I can say that this will be the case also for Florian.”

‘Frexit’
In October, Philippot, who still holds a seat in the European Parliament, unveiled a 26-point political charter for his new party, with a “Frexit” and pulling out of the European single currency as being the No. 1 priorities. The party also advocates referendums by popular initiative, removing the upper-house Senate and “heavily reducing” immigration. Despite using a lighter anti-immigration rhetoric than the FN, Sylvain Crépon, a sociologist and French far-right expert at the Université de Tours, said there is little difference between the two parties. “The only real difference between Les Patriotes and the FN is that Les Patriotes want out of the euro and the EU, and the FN doesn’t,” Crépon told FRANCE 24. “Of course, Les Patriotes don’t want to be considered as being far right; no far right or extreme right party does, but I think they are still very close to being that.”

To date, the party has around 6,000 members, many of them having defected from the FN for much the same reasons as Philippot himself. But Crépon said he doesn’t believe that is enough to pose any real threat to the FN or its electorate. “I think the problem with Philippot is that he’s already a well-known figure, since he’s already spent many years with the FN. He’s in no way a new face, like Macron was, and so even if he tries to present his party [platform] as an ‘FN light’, most of those who chose FN in the first place did so for its nationalist, anti-immigrant platform, not because of any anti-EU rhetoric,” Crépon said, adding: “And so what they [the far-right voters] want is the original, not a new version.” “It’s going to be complicated for Les Patriotes to be in competition with the FN because it is already so established. Le Pen is well-known and popular, with many years of experience, and so I don’t see how Les Patriotes could present themselves as a new and effective extreme right.”

Philippot, meanwhile, has spent the past few months touring France to drum up support in some of France’s far-right heartlands. His party is due to hold its first party congress in February or March next year, but the first real test is considered to be the European parliamentary elections in 2019.
© France 24.

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Many police, few protesters as far right enters Austrian government

Hundreds of police sealed off part of central Vienna yesterday (18 December) as Austria became the only western European country with a far-right party in power, but protests against the swearing-in proved small and largely peaceful.

19/12/2017- Conservative Sebastian Kurz, who is just 31, became chancellor in a coalition with the far right two months after winning a parliamentary election with a hard line on immigration after Austria was swept up in Europe’s refugee crisis in 2015. Unlike in 2000, when the EU imposed sanctions on Austria in response to the entrance of the FPÖ into government, this time EU leaders and institutions silently accepted the coalition deal between the far-right force with the conservative ÖVP agreed on Friday (15 December). The last time the anti-immigration Freedom Party (FPÖ) entered government in Austria, demonstrations were so big that the cabinet took a tunnel from the chancellery to the swearing-in ceremony at the president’s office across the street.

There was no need for that this time as, almost 18 years on and to a significantly more muted reaction, the country once again became an exception among its peers, but in a very different European political landscape. Protests nearby drew only a fraction of the tens of thousands who gathered in 2000 – and criticism from across the continent has also been more restrained. Police wore riot gear and stationed two water cannon at the main protest site. “We will certainly not be going underground to the Hofburg, but rather with our heads held high in the street,” FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache said earlier in an interview with regional newspapers. He was referring to the former imperial palace that houses the president’s office.

This time, police cleared a large area around the head of state’s office, keeping several thousand protesters about 100 metres away in a nearby square. Chants could be heard as the new ministers from the FPÖ and the conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) crossed the street quietly to the ceremony. The coalition deal hands control of much of Austria’s security apparatus to the FPÖ, which came third in the election with 26 percent. “Any crime committed in Austria is one too many,” FPÖ Chairman Herbert Kickl said as he assumed his new position of interior minister. The FPÖ was also given the foreign and defence ministries. The agreement, under which Strache became vice chancellor, includes plans to cut public spending and taxes and curb benefits for refugees.

“I fear a total shift to the right, a hardening of the domestic political climate and incitement against outsiders,” said 69-year-old protester Wolfgang Pechlaner. Police said 1,500 officers were deployed. People marched peacefully, carrying placards saying “Nazis out” and chanting “Strache is a fascist”. Police put the number of protesters at 5,000-6,000 and said three arrests were made. Organisers put the turnout as high as 10,000. By late afternoon, the crowds had dispersed.

Cautious response
The FPÖ’s success made it an outlier in Europe in the 1990s when it was led by the late Jörg Haider. Now it is one of many anti-establishment parties making electoral gains in Europe. Its allies and sister parties this year entered the German parliament and made the French presidential run-off. Swearing in the new government, President Alexander Van der Bellen highlighted safeguards built into the coalition agreement. “We have achieved a clear consensus that (involvement in) Europe or the European Union and continuity in our foreign policy as well as respecting our fundamental rights and freedoms are important fundamental principles,” he said. That was a reference to the coalition having ruled out a referendum on EU membership, and to Austria’s support for EU sanctions against Russia despite the FPÖ’s pro-Moscow stance.

The FPÖ, founded in the 1950s by former Nazis, has backed away from calling for a vote on EU membership. It and Kurz’s conservatives want the EU to focus on fewer tasks, like securing external borders, and hand more powers back to member states. “We will follow how the EU policy of Austria develops,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said. “Chancellor (Sebastian) Kurz has the intention of being an active partner in Europe, and I am glad of that. We have lots of problems to solve in Europe.” France was also cautious. “The new chancellor has, on many occasions, affirmed his attachment to European values and the European project … It is in this spirit that we want to engage in a dialogue with his government,” French Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman Alexandre Giorgini said. Kurz travels to Brussels today to meet European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Council President Donald Tusk.

Other EU countries imposed sanctions on Austria in 2000 in protest at the FPÖ coming to power. There is no such action being taken this time. Tusk yesterday warned Kurz he expected the country to “continue to play a constructive and pro-European role”. Austria will hold the EU’s rotating presidency in the second half of next year, and in a letter congratulating Kurz on his election, Tusk warned that Brussels expected Vienna to stick by its commitments to the bloc. “I trust that the Austrian government will continue to play a constructive and pro-European role in the European Union,” Tusk wrote. “This is especially important at a time when the European Council is engaging more directly on politically sensitive issues in the context of the Leaders’ Agenda.”

The new government unveiled a policy platform on Saturday that “commits to Europe” but also pledges to use the Austrian EU presidency to “take a leading role in correcting some of the erroneous developments” of the bloc. It also plans a summit on the contentious issue of immigration as part of its presidency. The issue of how to deal with migrants arriving in the EU has proven enormously divisive, with eastern European countries highly resistant to compulsory quotas for how many they should host.
© EuroActiv.

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Austria and Italy clash over South Tyrol citizenship proposal

Vienna proposes citizenship for residents of region formerly part of Austro-Hungarian empire

19/12/2017- Austria’s new coalition government, which includes the far-right Freedom party, has angered politicians in Rome with plans to offer citizenship to people living in the South Tyrol region of north Italy. Sebastian Kurz, who became Austrian chancellor on Monday, said he would consult with the country’s southern neighbour over the move, adding that his relations with Italy were “excellent”. However, the idea, inserted into the government’s programme at the Freedom party’s request, raised immediate concerns from Italian government officials. “What we are hearing today from Vienna is not European music but one of nationalist closure,” Benedetto Della Vedova, undersecretary in the foreign ministry, wrote on Facebook. Angelino Alfano, Italy’s foreign minister, warned that the “delicate” issue should be treated “in terms that are coherent with our history”.

The clash served as an early warning of the possible tensions created by the entry into the Austrian government of the fiercely nationalist Freedom party. Mr Kurz, who heads the mainstream centre-right People’s Party, has stressed that his government will be firmly pro-European. A trip to Brussels on Tuesday highlighted his determination to maintain good relations with EU partners. However, the coalition’s 182-page program included a number of measures backed by the Freedom party, including to allow German speakers in South Tyrol to obtain Austrian passports in addition to Italian nationality. Dual nationality, it argued, would be “in the spirit of European integration” and promote “an ever closer union of citizens of the member states.

Officials in Vienna said the proposal should be seen as reflecting the pressure exerted by politicians in South Tyrol rather than as a revival of Austrian nationalism. It would be implemented only after discussions with Rome, they stressed. But Sandro Gozi, Italy’s EU minister, dismissed the proposal as “propaganda deriving from the fireworks of the electoral campaign” and warned that if Austria were to follow through unilaterally “it would be an anti-European political act”. Mr Kurz won October’s national election after promising a crackdown on illegal immigration, tax cuts and institutional reform. The Freedom party, which took 26 per cent of the vote, joined the coalition after coming third behind the centre-left Social Democrats.

Italy was awarded South Tyrol under the Treaty of Saint Germain-en-Laye in 1919 following the first world war, in which Austria allied with Germany on the losing side after fierce Alpine battles with Italy. In the years that followed Benito Mussolini’s Fascist regime tried to Italianise the German-speaking province — known as Alto Adige in Italian — and discriminated heavily against the local population. But Rome granted the region far-reaching linguistic, political and fiscal autonomy after fascism was defeated in world war two, turning it into a model of peaceful ethnic coexistence within Europe. Nonetheless, the idea of obtaining Austrian as well as Italian citizenship is broadly supported within South Tyrol. Local politicians, including the majority Sudtiroler Volkspartei, have increasingly embraced the idea, not just because of cultural affinities but also because many in the province would rather be on the side of Vienna than Rome if Europe splits on economic matters or migration policy.

For Italian nationalists, the defence of Alto Adige has jumped up the political agenda. “Hands off Italy,” Giorgia Meloni, head of the nationalist-conservative Brothers of Italy, wrote on Facebook. “Austria should stay in its place and should not dare to go ahead with this illicit invasion . . . a masked secession,” she said.
© The Financial Times^

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Austria's right-wing coalition could be a tipping point for Europe (opinion)

By Paul Hockenos

18/12/2017- Austria's new government -- a coalition of the conservative People's Party (ÖVP) and the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) -- has pledged fealty to the European Union, contradicting the far-right party's longstanding rejection of the EU in its current form and previous threats to hold a referendum on leaving it.
The alliance between Austria's conservatives and the far right in the heart of Europe is an ominous turn of events as the beleaguered continent looks at its immediate future. In mid-October, the People's Party won the national election in Austria by taking a hard line on immigration, calling for cutting benefits to refugees in Austria, cracking down on Islamic groups, and halting "illegal" immigration. Its positions on immigration differed little from the Freedom Party's, which built its reputation on such national populist planks. It finished third in the election, with 26 percent of the vote.

In the new government, the Freedom Party will hold six ministries, including the red-button foreign, defense and interior portfolios, ensuring that it will be a powerful partner to the People's Party in the administration. Another complication: Austria will hold the EU's rotating presidency in the second half of next year when the Union is expected to pass seminal reforms. Modern European conservatism, like that of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), constitutes an essential bulwark against national extremists across Europe -- when they steadfastly refuse to bend to the far right's demagoguery or to rule in tandem with them.
Today Europe's fate lies disproportionately in the hands of its conservative parties -- and their decision on whether to collaborate with or exclude nationalist extremists.

Enlightened conservatism, such as that across most of western Europe, offers traditionally minded, often religious, better-off burghers a viable political home in liberal democracies. Western Europe's conservative parties, whether in Sweden or Spain, are patriotic and proud of their country, but their understanding of the nation is open-minded, not based on genealogy -- or closed to non-Christians. They believe firmly in an integrated EU and on cultural issues -- such as women's rights, gay rights and ethnic diversity -- have come a long way since the Cold War years. Germany's CDU is a classic modern Christian democratic party, which has categorically ruled out a coalition with the Alternative for Germany (AfD) -- Germany's far-right Islamophobic party. It rejects even teaming up with the rightists to pass certain legislation.

In the summer election campaign, Angela Merkel refused to borrow from the racist vocabulary of the AfD -- which had seen its popularity grow across Germany over the past four years -- before it entered the Bundestag this year with 12.6 percent of the vote. Obviously, there's a strain of German voter that responds to the racist, anti-immigrant tropes of the AfD, which blames foreign nationals and refugees for crime, terrorism and abusing social welfare. But Merkel -- though she has cut down the numbers of refugees entering the country since the 2015-16 crisis -- has stuck to her guns that Germany will continue to take in refugees and respect the right to political asylum. By pledging not to enter coalitions with the AfD, the CDU -- along with with every other mainstream German party -- has signaled that the likes of the AfD do not belong in the liberal democracy that Germany has forged since the war ended.

In stark contrast to Merkel, the People's Party and Sebastian Kurz mimicked the far right's bigotry in the election campaign and will now run a government with the Freedom Party. As prime minister, Kurz's deputy will be Heinz-Christian Strache, the head of the Freedom Party. Strache, who was involved in a neo-Nazi movement as a young man, now disavows radicalism, and has suspended party members for extremism -- including for making the straight-arm Nazi salute in public. According to the parties' coalition contract, plans to toughen migration-related policies will be put into motion at once. Austrian authorities will dispossess asylum seekers of their cell phones and all of their cash upon arrival in Austria, the former in order to read all saved data in the name of state security, the latter in order to pay for the upkeep of refugees waiting to have their asylum cases heard.

Kurz's short-sighted opportunism lends the far right and its illiberal ideas a stamp of legitimacy, signaling to Austrians and the rest of Europe that a party like the Freedom Party has a rightful place in our modern democracies. Obviously, Austria is not the only country who sees it this way: in contrast to the storm of protest unleashed during Austria's first conservative-far right government in 2000 -- which included EU sanctions against Austria -- there has so far been a critical but relatively muted response. In other words: This is the new European reality.

Gerald Knaus, director of the Berlin-based think tank European Stability Initiative, argues that Kurz and Merkel personify the stakes for European conservatives.
"Merkel, when faced with the migration crisis in 2015, told Germans 'we can manage this,' and designed policies to do exactly that." "But Kurz communicated it as a fundamental threat to Western culture and Europe's social welfare states. And now he entered into a coalition with a party that mobilized a poisonous Islamophobia in a country that hasn't even had an Islamist terrorist attack." The way Kurz approaches migration, says Knaus, echoes the way Hungary's autocratic leader Victor Orban has done, not fellow Christian Democrat Merkel.

Austria's shift to the right comes at a highly inopportune moment when the crisis-ridden EU is under siege from national populists across the continent and fighting for its very survival. It sends exactly the wrong message to Austria's post-communist neighbors in Central Europe, such as Hungary and Poland, where illiberal regimes already hold power and bid to reshape the EU. In fact, it plays right into their hands, underscoring that their visions of an ethnically homogenous Europe of nations could become the rule rather than the exception in the EU. France's far-right leader Marine Le Pen understood Austria's new leadership exactly this way: "It is excellent news for Europe."
Paul Hockenos is the author of "Berlin Calling: A Story of Anarchy, Music, the Wall and the Birth of the New Berlin." This article has been updated to reflect the most accurate election results. The opinion in this article belong to the author.
© CNN

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‘Roma Segregated’ in Bulgarian Maternity Wards

As claims Roma women are routinely placed in separate ‘gipsy sections’ in maternity wards surface, it seems discrimination against Bulgarian Roma literally starts at birth.

18/12/2017- When you enter the maternity ward, to the left is the Bulgarian section and straight on is ours, the gipsy one,” says 29-year-old Galina*, a mother of five from the notorious Roma neighbourhood of Nadejda in Sliven, a city in southeast Bulgaria. Like most women from Nadejda, Galina gave birth to all of her children in Sliven’s Ivan Seliminski regional public hospital. She delivered her youngest there in April this year. “We have four, five rooms there. I don’t know how many there are for the Bulgarians – they would not let us in there. Who would ever let us in?” she says. Galina’s real name and those of all the Roma mothers featured in this article have been changed because of the women’s concern that revealing their true identities may affect their access to public health services in the future.

Delivery rooms and rooms for new-born babies are mixed at the Ivan Seliminski hospital. However, some of the maternity ward’s 10 rooms appear to be regularly used solely by Roma patients. These are referred to locally as ‘Roma rooms’. Three former and current employees and eight former patients told BIRN that Roma women are routinely segregated from Bulgarians in the ‘Roma rooms’ at Sliven hospital. Staff gave a variety of reasons for segregating Roma women, including hygiene, health concerns and claims that women of Roma origin prefer to share rooms with other Roma. Furthermore, data collected by Bulgaria’s largest rights group the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, BHC, and given exclusively to BIRN, suggests that this kind of segregation on maternity wards is commonplace across the country.

BIRN’s reporter visited the Ivan Seliminski maternity ward in July and found that rooms were either solely occupied by Roma women or predominantly by Bulgarians. Only one room was shared by a Bulgarian and a Roma woman. There was no discernible difference between the rooms – all have three beds and a shared bathroom and toilet - or any obvious reason why the Roma women should be separated. Aishe and Valentina are both Roma mothers who have given birth at the Sliven hospital. They said that Roma women are only placed with Bulgarians if the ‘Roma rooms’ on the ward are full. As for putting a Bulgarian into a ‘Roma room’, that would be “impossible”, says Valentina, who delivered her child at the Sliven hospital four years ago.

In addition to the maternity ward rooms, there is a separate isolation ward at the Sliven hospital. This ward is comprised of three rooms, each with three beds, where women with registered or suspected infectious diseases, or poor hygiene, are kept under quarantine. At the time of BIRN’s visit, there were five to six women – all of Roma origin – on this ward, which is referred to at the hospital as ‘the isolator’. Many Roma mothers who have delivered their children at the Sliven hospital believe only Roma women are put in ‘the isolator’. Aishe and Valentina have both been placed in ‘the isolator’. Aishe, who gave birth to her four-month-old daughter at the hospital, firmly believes: “It has never happened for a Bulgarian to be in the isolator.” None of the eight Roma women BIRN interviewed complained about conditions on the ward or of personally experiencing ill treatment.

Aishe, however, said she had witnessed other Roma women being abused by medical personnel in the hospital, particularly younger – often teenage – mothers. “Two years ago, when I was giving birth to my youngest son, they told one woman, ‘you Roma have many births, but you cannot keep up with the pain… They tell the young ones – you are children, and give birth to children. Shut up, don’t shout,” she says. The CEO of the hospital, Dr Vasislav Petrov, denied there was any “official practice” of tougher treatment for teenage mothers, but he did not dismiss the possibility that some nurses or obstetricians might be harsher with them for giving birth at such early age. “We explain to all underage mothers that they should wait more. Such births [to young girls] lead to problems, malformations. It is important that they learn this,” he said. Dr Petrov added that he has never received complaints from teenage mothers or their relatives over alleged ill treatment by the medical personnel in the maternity ward.

Anti-Roma sentiment
The Roma population is hugely disadvantaged in Bulgaria – as is the case in many other Balkan states - and faces disproportionately higher levels of poverty, lower levels of educational achievement, and much higher than average unemployment. Outcomes for those resident in exclusively Roma neighbourhoods such as Nadejda – a de facto ghetto - are usually markedly worse as living conditions are frequently deplorable. Large sections of Nadejda, for example, lack running water, modern sewers and basic healthcare. Nadejda is the Bulgarian word for ‘hope’. The neighbourhood, which is separated from other parts of the city, is officially home to 10,342 people, according to the latest census conducted in 2011. However, locals estimate its real population is more than double the official figure.

On top of severe social and economic disadvantages, Roma also face widespread discrimination, with many Bulgarians unwilling to share public spaces such as swimming pools, cafes and schools with people from Roma origin. In its 2016 Human Rights report for Bulgaria, the US State Department described “the marginalization of and societal intolerance towards the Romani minority” as “the country’s most pressing human rights problem”. A 2016 study by the Open Society Institute in Bulgaria found that Roma were most frequently the target of hate speech, accounting for 92 per cent of all reported cases. A 2015 Gallup survey qualified negative attitudes held by Bulgarians towards Roma as “a matter of principle”. Over 70 per cent of survey participants said they would not vote for a Roma politician or take a job in an organisation led by a person of Roma origin. Only four per cent of ethnic Bulgarians said they would marry a Roma person.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, current and ex-staff at the Sliven hospital said that, unofficially, ‘Roma rooms’ exist at the Sliven hospital maternity ward. “Among each other, we know there are Roma rooms but this is not specified anywhere,” says a former employee, adding there were numerous reasons for segregation including that Roma women “prefer to stay with each other”. Two Roma women BIRN interviewed in their homes in Nadejda said they had been asked by hospital staff whether they preferred to share a room with Bulgarians or Roma. “They asked me: ‘Where do you prefer to be? With the Bulgarians or with the gypsies?’ And, of course, I said I prefer the gypsies,” says Magdalena, a mother of one.

As for using ‘the isolator’ solely for Roma women, the former employee said only mothers who were “dirty and with bad hygiene” were placed in the isolator because “we cannot put them in a normal room”. Another employee explained that more Roma women are put in ‘the isolator’ because they often do not have health insurance and have not, therefore, undergone essential medical examinations during pregnancy that would identify whether they were carriers of infectious diseases.
The employee said Roma women are only placed in ‘the isolator’ as a preventive measure to protect other mothers.

However, when BIRN reporters visited, there was no discernible difference between the maternity ward rooms – ‘Roma’ or otherwise – and ‘the isolator’ rooms. A point that was acknowledged by one of the former staff members. Segregating patients solely along ethnic lines is against equality and healthcare legislation in Bulgaria. When asked to comment on allegations this happens in Sliven, the hospital management denied Roma women were segregated. “The Ivan Seliminski hospital – Sliven does not divide the women in childbirth between Roma and Bulgarians. We do not have such practices… I do not think there is any reason for anyone to complain of discrimination in our medical facility,” hospital CEO Dr Petrov said.

‘Institutionalised segregation’
While the testimonies at Sliven suggest habitual segregation, NGOs believe that segregating Roma mothers in public hospitals is an institutionalised practice across Bulgaria. According to interviews with Roma women conducted in 2016 and 2017 by the BHC, 84 per cent of 63 participants said they had been separated from Bulgarians in maternity wards. The group interviewed Roma women who had given birth in the last three years in five locations: Septemvri, Vetren and Rakitovo (three small towns in the south Bulgarian region of Pazardzhik) and the cities of Sliven and Varna. To further measure the scale of suspected institutionalised segregation of Roma in Bulgarian maternity wards, members of BHC’s legal team posed as fathers-to-be and telephoned 79 of the country’s 81 public hospitals with maternity wards to check if their fictitious partners might have to share a room with a Roma woman.

BHC researcher called each hospital twice, first speaking to a random obstetrician or doctor and second putting the same questions and answers to the head of the ward for verification. Two other members of the BHC team were documenting the findings. In more than 96 per cent of maternity wards across the country, BHC researcher recorded segregation practices. The results of the research, obtained by BIRN, suggest that segregation is firmly institutionalised in 78 hospitals – amounting to 98.7 per cent of all tested hospitals and 96.3 per cent of all public hospitals with a maternity ward in the country. BHC researchers documented responses to the question of whether their ‘partner’ would share a room with a Roma women as including: “People of colour are separated. Completely separated” and “God, no, please, don’t talk nonsense. How could she be in a room with Roma women?”

One obstetrician is quoted by BHC as saying: “Never in a lifetime would we put them [together with Bulgarians]. We have the opportunity to select patients.” The transcript of another call documents one hospital doctor recommending a BHC ‘father-to-be’ ensures his wife stayed on the 12th floor ward that is exclusively for Bulgarian mothers, rather than one on the 7th floor that is mixed. “Our study goes beyond documenting individual instances of abuse, providing a comprehensive picture of all public hospitals, exposing segregation of Roma women giving birth in this country as universal and deeply entrenched,” Margarita Ilieva, human rights lawyer and director of BHC’s legal team during the research period, told BIRN. Ilieva designed and directed the research. “Segregation is normalised to the extent where medical personnel are willing to openly declare that it is part and parcel of maternity ward care conditions,” she added.

The group said it was forced to use such research methods in order to secure evidence for the purposes of launching legal action against hospitals because no Roma women who said they had been subject to segregation in maternity wards would entertain the idea of lodging complaints or testifying as witnesses in any court action. The women are wholly dependent on their local hospitals for paediatric and maternity care in the event of future pregnancies. On July 19, the BHC launched legal action against the Multi-Profile Hospital for Active Treatment in Pazardjik together with the European Roma Rights Centre, ERRC. The two organizations have initiated a public interest civil lawsuit claiming a declaration by the Pazardjik Regional Court that racial segregation is at hand in the hospital, as well as an injunction on respondent to refrain from further engaging in the impugned conduct.

BIRN reporter asked the Pazardjk Regional Court for further details on the court case, but according to the court, such cannot be obtained without an approved freedom of information request – a procedure which usually takes around a month. In a written response, Bulgaria’s Healthcare Ministry quoted article 85 of the Bulgarian Health Act, which bans discrimination against patients based on their “age, gender, spoken language, national, racial or political affiliation, education, beliefs, culture, sexual orientation, personal, public or material position, disability or type of disease”. “Dividing the rooms of maternity wards in hospitals into rooms for people of Roma ethnic origin and rooms for all other people would be a breach of the legal principle for providing medical aid,” the statement continued.

Dr Stoyan Borissov, Secretary General of the Union of Bulgarian Doctors and a gynaecologist with 33 years of experience, called the claims “totally absurd” and dismissed the BHC research as an “attempt to make a fuss about nothing”. “In the University Obstetrics and Gynaecology Hospital Maichin Dom, where I am head of team, 50 to 60 per cent of the pregnant are from minorities. There is no different attitude towards them,” he said. “If anyone has dared to do this, then they have breached the law. The Doctors’ Union does not stand behind such practices. Such doctors should be punished according to the ways foreseen by law.”

However, Borissov acknowledged that some Bulgarian patients would dislike being placed in the same room as Roma women. He suggested that because hospitals depend on the volume of patients in order to secure their funding, staff feel under pressure to get as many patients as possible, perhaps even if it means making promises they cannot or have no intention of keeping. “There is a huge fight for patients currently. On the phone I can promise you anything, just to have your daughter come to give birth [in my hospital]. When she comes I would say ‘sorry, there is not enough space’,” he said, questioning the method the rights group used to test whether hospitals have institutionalised the practice of segregating Roma.

At the same time, Borissov did not dismiss the possibility of putting women of the same ethnicity or nationality together where the mothers might benefit because, for example, they speak the same language. “Sometimes, people from the minorities do not even understand Bulgarian... If there are two Bulgarians, two Roma and two Russians giving birth at the same time, what is the problem to sort them this way?” he asked. However, Ilieva from the BHC is certain that any separation of Roma mothers-to-be in hospitals would have negative effects both on them and their children. “Segregation is acute, deep stigma. Such intense stigmatisation is pathogenic, inevitably breeding an anguished mentality of inferiority and isolation,” she says.

Ilieva believes Roma women’s own willingness to be placed in rooms with other mothers from their ethnic group is the logical result of fear of hostility and harassment. “In Sliven’s poorer Roma district, in particular… segregation is fierce and pervasive and, accordingly, internalised as the norm… For a very poor person, a target of extreme racialisation, already radically challenged by surviving economically in a hostile environment, the slur of segregation might well be the safer option,” Ilieva explains. For Stela Kostova, director of the Roma Academy for Culture and Education, a Sliven-based NGO, BHC’s findings are nothing new.

She told BIRN that Roma organisations have tried to raise the issue of maternity ward segregation for over a decade, but their voice has remained unheard. “Not only in Sliven but in the whole country, the problem is that our women are being separated from the Bulgarians. As if they are not mothers, but second-class women,” she says. “After that the kids are segregated in the kindergartens, in schools, then in the workplace and it goes on for life.” According to Kostova this practice “equals cynicism” and has remained unchanged since Bulgaria’s Communist regime, which ruled the country until 1989. A Roma woman herself, Kostova is convinced that things will remain the same “if concrete measures are not taken and if nobody is punished”.

Her view seems to be borne out by the Roma women in Nadejda BIRN spoke to. They see no problem with the current situation. “We want to be with other Roma women because we get along with each other. We talk, we share things. Bulgarians would not want to communicate with us anyway,” says Valentina.
*The names of Roma women interviewed for this article have been changed at their request.
© Balkan Insight

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Ireland: Bar staff should get anti-racism training, says Traveller activist

Comments follow settlement in case of four Travellers refused service in Maynooth bar

18/12/2017- Anti-racism training should be provided to all bar staff, according to the director of the Traveller support organisation, Pavee Point. Ronnie Fay was speaking as she welcomed the settlement in a case of four Travellers who were refused service in a bar in Maynooth earlier this year. The four men, students from Donegal, Kerry and Dublin, were refused service in the Roost bar in the Co Kildare town on April 4th. They had just completed a weekend residential programme at Maynooth university on human rights and were planning to join Ms Fay and Anastasia Crickley, chairwoman of the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, for a drink. They were refused service initially by a staff member and then by the bar manager. The four took a case against owner of the bar, Laraville Properties Ltd, under the 2003 Intoxicating Liquor Act. Legal representation was provided by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC).

Legal assistance
Under Section 40 of the IHREC Act 2014, the Commission can, in certain circumstances, provide legal assistance to a person who wishes to bring a matter of human rights or equality of treatment before the courts. The case, due to come before Naas district court last month, was settled before it went to hearing. Each of the men was paid €6,000, plus €500 each to go to a charity of their choice. Further conditions of the settlement were that the staff involved attend a course of equality training and that the four men not speak publicly about the case. Emily Logan, IHREC’s chief commissioner, welcomed the settlement, saying it sent a clear message “that discrimination in private services, including licensed premises is not acceptable and can be challenged”.

‘Shocked’
Ms Fay, who witnessed the incident, said she had been “shocked at the discrimination Travellers had to endure that evening. “Sadly this continues to be the reality for many Travellers, despite equality legislation, as documented in the recent ESRI study in Travellers,” she said. “It once against highlights the need for proactive anti-racism action plan in Ireland -the last one concluded in 2008. It also highlights the need for the Vintners Associations to encourage their members to provide anti-racism training for their staff.” The outcome of the case was “no doubt strengthened by my being present on the night as well as Ms Crickley who also witnessed the incident”. “It was made possible by the IHREC supporting the case. Most Travellers would not have this support.” She said: “Licensed premises cases need to be brought back under the remit of the Work Relations Commission ( previously Equality Tribunal) as the majority of Travellers continue to be denied justice in the cases of discrimination by licensed premises including hotels for weddings; Christenings and Christmas parties.”
© The Irish Times..

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Daily Briefing: To muted protest, a new far-right win

This morning's swearing-in of Austria's newly-formed coalition means the far-right now wield power in the national government of a western European state (they already do in one eastern European government, that of Bulgaria).

18/12/2017- True, conservative chancellor-to-be Sebastian Kurz has stipulated that his alliance with the Freedom Party (FPO) will not seek to leave the European Union outright, and most contacts between Vienna and Brussels will still go through his office. Yet there is no mistaking the tough line the new government will be taking on immigrants and what it sees as the Islamist threat. When the FPO last entered government in 2000, other EU countries imposed sanctions on Vienna in protest. There is unlikely to be a similar outcry this time, given the rise of anti-establishment parties now present in parliaments, town and regional councils across the continent.

British Prime Minister Theresa May will today pitch to parliament her plan for a two-year Brexit transition period with essentially the same access - and obligations - to EU markets. Although this looks to have broadly won the support of most of her Conservative Party, she will have to tread carefully as it can still irk Brexiters. Foreign minister Boris Johnson insisted at the weekend Britain cannot remain a "vassal state" dependent on Brussels even as it leaves the EU.

Even as U.S. President Donald Trump is expected later today to set out a more protectionist world view of the United States in his National Security Strategy (NSS) paper, one of his neighbours has its eye on other markets. Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo is due in Brussels for talks this week on a trade deal which he hopes to wrap up by the end of the year. This comes as efforts to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) remain hung up and as Mexico seeks to reduce its reliance on U.S. trade. Although differences remain over things like agricultural market access, this is a new sign of Europe's growing trade influence.

Markets
The promise of U.S. tax cuts that’s buoyed Wall St all year looks to be close to delivery and could now be voted on and signed into law this week. That was enough to see the major U.S. equity indices add almost 1 percent to record highs on Friday, with mostly positive ripple effects through Asia overnight. MSCI’s all-country world index is up 0.2 percent, within half a point of its all-time high and now on course for the best year since 2009. It’s also set fair for its 14th straight month of gains, the longest such streak in its 30-year history.  Tokyo’s Nikkei225 led the gains in Asia, advancing 1.55 percent as the country recorded a forecast-beating 16.2 percent rise in exports in the year through November. China’s CSI300 was up by a more subdued 0.2 percent as the People’s Bank of China nudged up interest rates on its reserve repurchase agreements by 5 basis points. Euro zone stocks are expected to follow Wall St higher too.

European sovereign bond markets are also buoyant, with Portugal the standout gainer after an unprecedented two-notch credit rating upgrade back into investment grade status by Fitch on Friday. Ten-year Portuguese bonds fell an additional 4 basis points on Monday to as low as 1.79 percent, below Italian equivalents which have backed up over the past week as an early March election came onto the radar there. It’s been a strong month for the smaller, southern European sovereign credits – with Greece’s 10-year debt falling below 4 percent for the first time since 2006 on Friday. Elsewhere, South Africa's rand steadied early on Monday, giving up earlier gains as the ruling African National Congress voted to elect a new leader to succeed President Jacob Zuma as party head. ANC delegates began casting their ballots in the early hours of Monday, to select between Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and former chair of the Commission of the African Union Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as new party leader. The currency had raced to a 3-1/2-month high of 12.7300 earlier on hopes Ramaphosa, who is favoured by markets, would win the race.

Bitcoin raced higher again to new records of $19,666 at the weekend surrounding the launch of second major futures contract on the cryptocurrency this month, this time from the CME. It’s slipped back below $19,000 since but is still up about 8 percent from late European levels on Friday.
© Reuters.

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He survived a stabbing. Now this German mayor is defiantly refusing to back down on refugees.

17/12/2017- Moments before the would-be assassin tried to kill the mayor of this small and picturesque riverside town in the Sauerland hills of western Germany, he told him why. He was thirsty, he said, as he pressed a foot-long butcher’s knife to the mayor’s throat. But rather than help his fellow German, the mayor had taken in hundreds of refugees. Two weeks later, the gash in Mayor Andreas Hollstein’s neck has largely healed. But the sense of profound shock in this tightknit community remains. And the debate over his decision to make this economically precarious town a German model for the acceptance and integration of asylum seekers has only escalated. Since the attack, Hollstein — who credits the quick response of the immigrant family that runs the kebab shop where he was ambushed with saving his life — has been defiant.

Some people may not like his humanitarian-based approach, he said while sitting in his office overlooking the town’s imposing 12th-century castle, and a few on the extreme right may be angry enough to try to kill him. But Hollstein said he had no regrets about taking in 450 asylum seekers, 100 more than was required under German rules for distributing the influx of more than 1 million people in 2015 and 2016. “It was the right thing to do,” said the blond, bespectacled and youthful-looking 54-year-old, a scar forming beneath his left ear where the blade pressed in. “I’d do the same thing tomorrow.” That puts Hollstein, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union, sharply at odds with the political moment in Europe.

Across the continent, politicians wary of a voter backlash against those seeking a haven from war or persecution have sharply toughened both their rhetoric and their policies. Just this week, European Council President Donald Tusk proposed giving up on forcing countries to take in refugees after two years of largely failed efforts. Yet if Hollstein is out of step with the political mood, the attack on him is in keeping with the times. Two years ago, the leading candidate for mayor of the western German city of Cologne, Henriette Reker, was stabbed in the neck as she campaigned in an election she would win days later while recovering in the hospital. Police said her assailant was motivated by opposition to her pro-refugee politics. Last year in Britain, Jo Cox, a 41-year-old member of Parliament and passionate advocate for Syrian refugees, was shot and stabbed to death in her northern English district. A right-wing extremist who shouted “Britain first!” during the attack was convicted of her murder.

And on Tuesday, German federal prosecutors charged a soldier with plotting to assassinate top politicians, including the justice minister, and to frame refugees for the crimes. The growing trend toward violence comes amid a public discourse that has become far more poisonous and accepting of extreme measures against refugees and their supporters, said Dierk Borstel, an expert on the far right at Dortmund University of Applied Sciences and Arts. “It’s a big problem for security services. The police used to know about the people who could be violent. There was tight observation,” said Borstel, whose university is a short drive from Altena. “But now the circle has expanded, and people who haven’t been previously suspected are committing these acts. So it’s very hard to control.”

Police have said little about the man charged with the attempted murder of Hollstein beyond his first name, Werner. But locals in Altena described him as a middle-aged town resident who largely kept to himself and had fallen on hard times. On the night of the attack, Hollstein had stopped for dinner at City Doener, a favorite neighborhood gathering spot where native-born Germans, Turkish immigrants, Arab refugees and many others feast on sizzling kebab sandwiches piled high with veggies and hot sauce. He had just placed his order when a man approached and asked if he was the mayor. “Yes, I am,” Hollstein said he responded. “Why?” With that, the man pulled out his knife and lunged, while berating the mayor for having taken in “foreigners.”

In a flash, Ahmet Demir, 27, was out from behind the counter where he had been making kebabs, and was trying to wrest the knife away. “I was just shocked,” said Demir, who has lived in the area since his family immigrated to Germany from Turkey when he was 2 and who has long worked with his parents at the family restaurant. “There’s never been anything like this in Altena. No crime. No fighting. It’s quiet here. It’s safe.” Demir’s father, Abdullah, joined him within seconds. His mother, Hayriye, dashed to the police station down the road. An officer’s gun fixed on the perpetrator, it took several minutes of commands to drop the knife before he complied and let the mayor go. “In my mind, I knew it was a life-or-death situation,” Hollstein said. “I was lucky that [the Demirs] were there to help me. Without them, there was no chance.”

The next morning, his three-inch neck wound wrapped in bandages, Hollstein was back at town hall insisting he would not be intimidated. He would continue to do his job without police protection, he said, and to pursue a high-octane strategy for integrating refugees that has won the town a national award.  Hundreds of residents gathered for a candlelight march that evening. Merkel condemned the attack and called Hollstein to express her hopes for a fast recovery. Cards and emails poured in from thousands of well-wishers around the world, including the mayors of Barcelona, Milan and New York. But mixed in with the mail were more than 100 letters of the sort Hollstein has grown accustomed to in the past several years. “I’m sorry this man wasn’t successful in killing you,” said one. “Now we will kill you.”

Klaus Laatsch, a local spokesman for the far right Alternative for Germany party (AfD), said the attack on Hollstein was “a really bad thing.” But he can understand the anger. “If you drive around Altena, it’s a very sad place,” said Laatsch, whose party this fall became the first from the far right to enter the German Parliament in more than half a century. “And the mayor’s the one who’s responsible for a lot of the problems.” Like many small and once-mighty industrial towns in Germany, Altena has suffered as factories have moved away. A population of 32,000 decades ago has dwindled to just over 17,000 today. When asylum seekers from the Middle East, Africa and Asia began making their way to Europe in large numbers several years ago, Hollstein saw an opportunity: The town had surplus housing that would otherwise be knocked down. It had schools on the verge of being shuttered because of under-enrollment. It had employers looking for young workers to train.

Hollstein, whose grandmother fled to Altena from her home in Kaliningrad as Soviet troops advanced during World War II, said he also thought the town had a humanitarian imperative to act. “We can’t solve everyone’s problems here in Europe,” he said. “But we can do what we can do. And it was very clear to me that we could do more.” Beyond taking a higher share of refugees than required, Altena has stood out for its aggressive efforts to integrate the newcomers. At the town hall, a team of four helps to connect asylum seekers with jobs, guides them through the German bureaucracy and coordinates the work of an unusually large cadre of volunteers.

But these days, the refugees need a lot less help than they used to. “They’re independent. They’re self-sufficient,” said Esther Szafranski, a 50-year-old Altena resident and volunteer. “The kids all speak German very well, and the adults are catching up.” Among them is Nazeer Mohseni, a 29-year-old Afghan who fled a conflict zone more than two years ago and traveled six months to reach Germany. He now speaks the language, has a German girlfriend and walks the steep streets of Altena delivering mail as a postal trainee. “When I leave at 9 a.m. for my rounds with my letters and packages, everyone greets me with a smile and says, ‘Guten morgen,’ ” said Mohseni, who bears the scars of a bomb blast he survived five years ago. “I feel very good here. There’s security. “But when I saw what happened to the mayor, I said to myself: ‘How can this happen in Germany?’ ”
© The Washington Post.

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Malta: Pupils research their DNA in anti-racism project

17/12/2017- Pupils at St Joan Antide school, Gudja, have provided DNA samples via mouth swabs that were tested in a lab in the UK to research their ancestry. Officials from Living DNA in the UK subsequently visited Malta to film the children analys­ing the results of the DNA tests. The exercise was part a two-year Erasmusplus project called Know Your Ancestors that the Gudja primary is involved in together with other schools in the UK, France, Croatia and Poland. A spokesperson for the school said the project was aimed at challenging pre­judices and fighting racism and instead instil empathy and promote inclusion. “The project outcomes clearly show that the fight is not between races but between right and wrong, between good and evil,” the spokesperson said.

In other project-related activities, teachers at the respective schools visi­ted the UK for training in digital skills, ancestry and the use of Google Drive. They subsequently delivered training sessions to pupils on geneaology, family trees and migration. All information on the project is being uploaded on to a website to disseminate the information gathered. The project is supported by Erasmusplus, the European Union Programmes Agency, the Curia’s Secretariat for Education and the Education Directorate.
© The Times of Malta

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UK: Ban on unstunned halal meat in Lancashire schools is put on hold

Muslim leaders announce they are seeking judicial review of council’s plan to stop schools serving unstunned halal meat

22/12/2017- Plans to ban schools in Lancashire from serving unstunned halal meat have been put on hold pending a legal challenge by local Muslim leaders. Lancashire county council voted to introduce the ban in October, with the Conservative leader of the council, Geoff Driver, describing the practice of killing animals without stunning them first as “abhorrent”. Lancashire currently supplies 27 schools with unstunned halal meat, catering for up to 12,000 children who are served 1.2m meals a year. The ban would have come into effect at the beginning of the new school term in January. Lancashire Council of Mosques has announced that it is seeking a judicial review of the ban, claiming the council did not adequately consult over the decision.

Abdul Hamid Qureshi, the organisation’s CEO, told the Guardian that he was limited in what he could say for legal reasons, but added: “We do not think the county council followed the right processes, or [sought to find out] the impact the ban would have on community cohesion and equality.” In a statement responding to the announcement, Driver said the council would continue to supply halal meat under the terms of the current contract until the legal dispute was resolved. Following a council decision there are three months in which any party can apply for a judicial review. Speaking to BBC Radio Lancashire, Driver said: “If it is felt that we haven’t consulted appropriately before we made the decision we will do that because we clearly don’t want to either break the law or cause the county council any unnecessary expenditure.”

Lancashire Council of Muslims had previously called for a boycott of school meals following the ban, saying the contracts would fail to provide halal meat that met their criteria. They said the issue had been “politicised unnecessarily” and the ban would only serve to “increase Islamophobia and antisemitism”. The debate over halal school meals in Lancashire has previously been jumped on by far-right groups, with Paul Golding, the head of Britain First, tweeting about the proposed ban before the council vote in October. UK law requires farm animals to be stunned before slaughter, but provides a religious exemption for Jews and Muslims. More than 80% of halal meat in the UK is pre-stunned. Instead of a single defined standard for halal meat in the UK, a range of accreditation agencies inspect and accredit firms that produce meat that is described as halal.
© The Guardian*

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UK: Far-right extremist planned 'race war' by making explosives

"High risk" and dangerous far-right extremists in Wales have been prevented from carrying out violent attacks in the last three years, according to a Home Office advisor.

22/12/2017- A Newport man was preparing for a "race war" by making and testing explosives. Nick Daines, who works with the UK Government's counter-terrorism Prevent programme, said Wales has a "unique landscape" for far right extremism. But he said membership was still relatively small. Welsh counter terror police said they devoted as much time to far-right extremism in Wales as Islamist extremism. Nigel Bromage, co-founder of the violent neo-Nazi group Combat 18, said Wales had traditionally been seen as a "safe haven" for the ultra-right, away from the authorities. He now works to confront the far-right through his organisation, Small Steps.
He said groups like the National Front had tried to hijack causes like the miners strike in the 1980s to help spread their ideology. "South Wales was seen as a big area to not only go in and support the miners, offering food and picket line support, but it was also very much about once we were in that community we could open up and support other things," he said.

Mr Bromage said the groups would not initially advocate violence, or Nazism as they knew people in Wales would reject that. He said the tactics were a "slow burn", and he believes the same tactics are being used by the far-right in Wales today. His organisation is now beginning to hold sessions in Wales to educate people on the dangers of the far-right. Just over 7,600 people in England and Wales were referred to the UK government's Prevent programme in 2015-16 - about 5,000 them over concerns about Islamist extremism. According to the Home Office figures - Wales accounted for just 2% of those referrals - 148 cases. But of those Welsh cases - 22% were for concerns about far-right extremism. Officers from The Welsh Extremism and Counter Terrorism Unit said they investigate every Prevent referral carefully.

Experts believe the high proportion of far-right referrals is a genuine reflection of what is being seen in Wales, and not a consequence of the low number of overall referrals. Nick Daines, a Home Office Prevent co-ordinator, works across Wales with people who are in danger of - or have become radicalised. He has 20 cases ongoing, and rarely speaks about his work. Much of his role involves providing support and guidance in matters that could be completely unrelated to extremism, such as employment, housing or education. He said isolated parts of the South Wales valleys remained "strongholds" for the far-right, contributing to Wales' "unique" far-right landscape. He said the mindset of the people he works with was becoming more extreme. "There are significant problems along the M4 corridor from Newport across to the furthest parts of West Wales," he said.

'Race war' preparations
"I worked with a man in the Newport area that was acquiring operational manuals for paramilitary groups and was creating explosives and experimenting with those in a quarry. "He was very racially motivated and held a perception there was a coming race war and needed to prepare for that kind of eventuality." Mr Daines said there had "certainly has been" moments where he had helped stop violent acts being carried out in Wales. He believes one "high risk" individual from south Wales who had a "propensity for violence" would have "acted on his views" - had the authorities not intervened. He said incidents where people prepare explosives or weaponry are "not as rare as you would think". But he said the membership of far-right groups is still relatively small in Wales and that the public should not be worried or alarmed.

Senior officers at The Welsh Extremism and Counter Terrorism Unit said they had particular concerns about one emerging group, called the System Resistance Network. Their posters were found in a student area of Cardiff this month - officers believe they are trying to attract young people. Experts on the far-right claim former members of the now banned group Nation Action have switched to the System Resistance Network. Their social media posts display Nazi iconography. The System Resistance Network is not a banned group. Zach Davies, who was convicted of attempted murder after attacking a dentist in a supermarket in Mold, claimed links to National Action. Senior Officers at The Welsh Extremism and Counter Terrorism Unit said half their time was devoted to combating far right extremism, as much as Islamist extremism.

Officers said the threat had never gone away, and urged people to contact them if they suspected someone was being radicalised. Assistant Chief Constable Jon Drake from South Wales Police said the Prevent programme can help stop someone committing potentially criminal acts. "This is often work a long long way before there's any criminal offending, it could just be someone needing some advice some guidance, the clue is in the title - the prevention of harm".Senior Officers at The Welsh Extremism and Counter Terrorism Unit said half their time was devoted to combating far right extremism, as much as Islamist extremism.
© BBC News.

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UK: Three judges sue Ministry of Justice for race discrimination

Cases add to pressure on MoJ, which recently rejected recommendations to set diversity targets in the judiciary

19/12/2017- Three judges from black and Asian backgrounds are suing the Ministry of Justice for race discrimination and victimisation, the Guardian has learned. Recorder Peter Herbert, one of the group bringing employment tribunal cases, has been involved in a long-running case against the ministry over a speech he made saying that racism could be found in the judiciary. He lodged proceedings this week. The cases put further pressure on the MoJ shortly after it refused to accept a recommendation from a report written at the request of the prime minister to set diversity targets in the judiciary. The MoJ has agreed to carry forward most of the recommendations in David Lammy’s report on the variation in treatment and outcomes for those from black and minority ethnic communities in the justice system. But the Labour politician said he was “disappointed” the decision on representation in the judiciary.

According to the MoJ, just 7% of court judges are from black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds (Bame) and 10% of tribunal judges. Herbert’s dispute relates to a speech he made at a rally in Stepney, east London, in April 2015. He commented negatively about the decision to bar Lutfur Rahman, the former mayor of Tower Hamlets, from holding public office for five years and claimed that racism was present in parts of the judiciary. Herbert said in the speech: “Racism is alive and well and living in Tower Hamlets, in Westminster and, yes, sometimes in the judiciary.” The second case relates to a retired immigration judge of African origin who is bringing a claim in the employment tribunal based on victimisation, discriminatory remarks and unfair distribution of work. The third case is brought by a district judge of Asian origin, who was sitting as a social security panel chair when a complaint was made about him for repetitious and oppressive questioning.

The complaint was treated as a misconduct matter, though the allegations of misconduct were withdrawn after he lodged proceedings in the employment tribunal alleging race discrimination. He said he had not received an apology for treatment that he described as distressing. A fourth case has been lodged in the employment tribunal over a lay tribunal member, Daniel Ibekwe of African origin. He was dismissed when he was sitting at Croydon employment tribunal. Ibekwe claims he was treated less favourably because of his race and victimised for making allegations of discrimination. Ismet Rawat, president of the Association of Muslim Lawyers, expressed concern about these cases: “We are aware of a number of BME judges and magistrates that have suffered discriminatory use of misconduct proceedings in circumstances where their white counterparts have not faced any action whatsoever,” she said.

Lee Jasper, co-chair of Black Activists Rising Against the Cuts, said: “The British criminal justice system is locked into a 19th-century vision of the world as a consequence of its inherent class and racial bias. "The judiciary and Ministry of Justice claim to be committed to equality while simultaneously discriminating against black people in the dock or on the bench.” Others say diversity among the judiciary is improving, albeit slowly. At a press conference this month, the new lord chief justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon, pointed out that since 2010, the proportion of women judges had risen from 21% to 28%. Those from non-white backgrounds, however, made up only 7% of court judges, Burnett acknowledged. The ethnic minority proportion of the UK population is estimated to be about 14%.

Burnett remarked at the time that the overall proportion in the population was not “really the appropriate comparator”. Instead, he suggested, “you really need to look at the proportion of non-white people in the legal profession and, perhaps, more generally in the working population within the age cohorts where most judges sit.” A spokesman for the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office, said it did not comment on ongoing legal proceedings.
© The Guardian.

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UK: Murdered refugee let down by 'institutional racism' of Avon & Somerset Police and Bristol City Council

A disabled refugee murdered by a vigilante was "failed" because of "discriminatory behaviour and institutional racism" within Avon & Somerset Police and Bristol City Council, a report has found.

18/12/2017- Bijan Ebrahimi, 44, was beaten to death and his body torched in 2013 despite repeatedly reporting that he was being targeted for racist abuse. Mr Ebrahimi was treated with "contempt" by police officers, while authorities "repeatedly sided with his abusers", according to the Safer Bristol Executive Board. Many of the Iranian national's 85 calls to the force between 2007 and 2013 were labelled "dishonest" by officers and resulted in little action. The report found a "collective failure" on the part of both the police and council. Neighbour Lee James was jailed for life for Mr Ebrahimi's murder in July 2013. In 2016, a police officer and community support officer were also jailed for their conduct over the case, while two other Pcs were sacked.

In 73 of the refugee's calls to police, Mr Ebrahimi reported incidents including racial abuse, criminal damage and threats to kill. During many of the calls he remained polite and persistent. But on dozens of occasions police did not record the claims or record them as crimes. James eventually attacked and killed Mr Ebrahimi after wrongly believing he had been filming his children. Monday's report found that the council and police had collectively failed to provide the 44-year-old with "an appropriate and professional service". The more Mr Ebrahimi pleaded with police, the more "ingrained" the pattern of siding with his abusers became, it said. The report stated: "There is evidence that Mr Ebrahimi was repeatedly targeted for racist abuse and victimisation by some members of the public, that this was repeatedly reported to Avon and Somerset Constabulary and Bristol City Council and that representatives of both organisations repeatedly sided with his abusers."

It continued: "His complaints resulted in little action. "Some allegations and counter-allegations against Mr Ebrahimi seemed to be accepted on the basis that some were corroborated by others but without objective investigation or consideration that this might be collusion between perpetrators rather than genuine corroboration. "As an Iranian man living in this environment, Mr Ebrahimi was disadvantaged by the inappropriate responses by Avon and Somerset Constabulary and Bristol City Council to his racist victimisation. "Representatives of those organisations displayed a distinct lack of understanding of his plight and, accordingly, unwitting prejudice against him. "More account should have been taken by Avon and Somerset Constabulary and Bristol City Council o fMr Ebrahimi’s isolation and vulnerability as an Iranian man in these circumstances."

Lawyers representing the Ebrahimi family said it was believed to be the first finding of institutional racism against a police force since the publication of the Macpherson report into the Stephen Lawrence murder and the first of its kind against a local authority . Avon & Somerset Chief Constable Andy Marsh said the force had "failed him in his hour of need". "Once again, I want to offer my sincere apologies to Mr Ebrahimi's family," Chief Constable Marsh said. "We failed him in his hour of need and I am unreservedly sorry for the pain his family have suffered in the last four years. "The intervening period since Mr Ebrahimi's tragic and brutal murder has been difficult for everyone involved." Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees also apologised to Mr Ebrahimi's family on behalf of the council. "We appreciate that no amount of lessons learned or changes in practice can possibly mitigate the impact this had on Bijan and his family," he said. "However, we assure the family and the public that every effort will continue to be made, building on the considerable work that has already been completed by the council as part of the Safer Bristol Partnership, to further identify how we need to change and improve."
© ITV

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UK: Voters name terms for immigrants

17/12/2017- British voters are open to unskilled migrants coming to the UK to work — as long as they are filling a need, speak English and do not have a criminal record, according to a new poll. The ICM survey of 4,000 voters for the Open Europe think tank undermines the claim that Brexit was fuelled by racism and bigotry. It found that fewer than 10% of voters care about the ethnic or religious background of immigrants or their sexuality respectively. By contrast, 84.2% of respondents would be concerned by a criminal record, 73.2% by whether new arrivals have a job to come to and 69.3% by the need for migrants to fill a UK skills shortage. More than half (53.5%) want immigrants to be able to speak “fluent English”. Ministers will publish a white paper outlining the government’s plans for a new post-Brexit immigration regime in late January. They have already won the right to run criminal record checks on EU migrants. Henry Newman, director of Open Europe, said: “Contrary to what some have suggested, public attitudes towards immigration — and indeed Brexit — were not fuelled by racism or intolerance.”
© The Times.

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Brexit vote 'sparks rise in Islamophobia' against Muslim footballers at grassroots level

16/12/2017- Muslim footballers playing the game at grassroots level are increasingly being targeted with Islamophobic abuse following Brexit, according to the organisation that monitors racism in football. Kick It Out said the numbers of cases it has been asked to investigate has increased sharply since the vote to leave Europe. Troy Townsend, Kick It Out's education officer, told Sky News: "I was always worried about Brexit and the outcome of that and I think what we've found now is people want to take ownership a lot more. "The language coming out now - 'This is our country, community, you weren't born here' - that is flat out discrimination and racism. It's happening in society, we've seen a spike in hatred towards Muslims because of situations that have happened. "That hatred goes into the game because we have people from different backgrounds playing together. We find groups are being discriminated against and it's nothing to do with football."

Mr Townsend said in some instances young children were being singled out because of their faith. He described some of the abuse that players of Muslim background have endured, including "mimicking the crashing of aeroplanes" - a reference to 9/11. He said: "Why should people who are going to handshake before the game have to witness things like that? What tone is that game being played under now? Because it's obviously being played under a tone where the perpetrators have identified their opposition in a certain way. No game should be played under those circumstances at all." Newcastle winger Yasin Ben El-Mhanni said he and his friends were regularly subjected to Islamophobic abuse when he started out.

He said: "When I was playing grassroots level, a lot of my friends and me got comments along the lines of suicide bomber and terrorist, stuff like that. It was quite overwhelming and disturbing. It does affect you mentally on and off the pitch. Sometimes when you get the abuse on the pitch, it affects you in the coming days, even weeks. It was very difficult to experience." Players and coaching staff at non-league club FC Peterborough are all too aware of the rise in Islamophobia. Verbal and physical abuse has now become a regular feature of their weekend fixtures. "We do get racist comments against our Asian players, we get Islamophobic comments because that seems to be a bit of a trend now," the club's operations manager Imtiaz Ali told me. "We have had players, 11-year-olds, mimic aeroplanes crashing into buildings after our games. We've had players mimicking the call to prayer to some of our players. These are some of the things that our 11-12 year old Asian players have been witnessing on an average weekend of football. So it really is disgusting."

The problem is so bad that the club is losing players. Mr Ali said: "There are a number of players who have stopped coming because of these kinds of things. There are certainly a number of players who have chosen to not sign up with the club because of these kinds of issues. "We have had players who have gone on to play for other clubs because they think, if I'm disguised in a group of white players, I won't necessarily be targeted, so it really is a shame." One of the club's players, Zeeshan Ali, said the abuse went way above banter. "You think to yourself, do we wake up on a Saturday morning for this. They say 'shave your beards off, get deported, what you doing here playing?' Stuff like that. 'Terrorist. They can't get enough of terrorist to be honest. You think to yourself, just smile at them. But there is only a certain amount you can take before you can't take anymore."

FC Peterborough posted some of the Islamophobic abuse its players receive on its Facebook page. Soon they were contacted by clubs around the country sharing similar stories of abuse. They all agreed that the FA's complaints procedure was too complicated, took too long and relied on the single testimony of a referee. In other words the system, says Mr Ali, is heavily weighted against the victim. "So the FA pay a lot of lip service to kick racism out, show racism the red card, side lined to side lines and all these initiatives that they run. The FA have been found to be a bunch of middle aged white men who are just that demographic, who are not aware of what is going on, on the ground, so in grassroots there is not a lot that they do.

"We have had six cases where we have reported racism over the past three and a half years, so we don't pull out the race card, if it happens we always feel bad that it has happened but we feel obliged to report it. "And when we do report it, the cases get found not proven, insufficient evidence, balance of probabilities, inconsistent statements. You name it, the referee didn't hear it, which is a reoccurring one. The thing is with the FA, they don't seem to be doing anything to sort it out." Troy Townsend agrees: "We've put a number of proposals to the FA to try and simplify that process and make people more confident that they're going to walk onto their pitches up and down the country every Saturday and Sunday, without fear. We have pockets of communities expecting things to happen. Football shouldn't be allowing our teams to go and play with fear. We wouldn't want it to happen at a professional game, why would we want it to happen on our grassroots pitches?

Sky News put these concerns to the FA and it responded with this statement: "Football has worked hard at grassroots level to tackle all forms of discrimination and to ensure the game is both fun and safe, however we recognise that some of the experiences this club has lived through are not ones that anyone feels are acceptable. "In addition we regularly engage with all types of Muslim communities, including Sunni, Shi'a and Ahmadi around football participation and development. This work has taken the form of club development, capacity building, linking Muslim communities to local county FAs and through our Faith and Football Network. We also try to educate the game about Muslim communities by producing a Ramadan Factsheet and an annual faith and football calendar produced in partnership with Kick It Out."

It added: "The FA deals with discrimination against all the protected characteristics; faith related abuse makes up 2% with race comprising of 27% of cases reported to us last season. We will continue this ongoing dialogue and engagement with Muslim communities which we see as vital to making sure football is for all."
© Sky News.

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Headlines 15 December, 2017

Finland: Key witness a no-show at neo-Nazi trial

The witness had been called to testify at the trial of Jesse Torniainen, who was jailed for two years for an aggravated assault.

15/12/2017- A key witness at a trial of neo-Nazi Jesse Torniainen failed to appear at a hearing in a court of appeals on Friday. The police were also not able to locate the witness at the address provided. Last year Torniainen was sentenced to two years in jail for an aggravated assault at a demonstration in Helsinki. The victim later died in hospital although the court in that case did not agree with prosecutors that his death was down to the injuries sustained in the assault. Both the prosecutor and the defendant appealed. The witness, who was called to testify by both the prosecution and defense on Friday, had accompanied the victim on the day of the assault. Torniainen is a member of the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement, which a district court banned in November, calling the organisation a violent group that exhorted followers and members to violent acts.
© YLE News.

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Polish parliament gift shop removes Jewish figurines from sale

The trinkets drew criticism from anti-racism campaigners

15/12/2017- The gift shop in the Polish parliament in Warsaw has removed from sale Jewish statuettes after criticism from a leading anti-racism organisation in October. The trinkets, which are sold in tourist shops across Poland, are seen as good-luck charms and depict Jewish men in typical orthodox dress holding coins or sacks of money. Rafal Pankowski, one of the founders of the organisation Never Again that led the criticism, says the figurines depict “deeply rooted negative stereotypes”. Parliament “should guarantee respect for all types of minorities and that includes the Jewish minority,” he adds.

Poland has seen a steady rise in nationalism since the right-wing PiS party came to power in 2015. “There is a climate in Poland today that could be seen as empowering the far-right and fostering xenophobia, islamophobia and anti-Semitism.” This phenomenon reached its peak in November when right-wing nationalists led a march of 60,000 people in Warsaw. Pankowski says the demonstration, which began in 2009 with around 500 participants, has “grown bigger and bigger every year”. The figurines are a small illustration of “how Polish identity is understood in terms of otherness and the stereotype of the other,” he says.
© The Art Newspaper.

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Bosnia Still Failing to Address Discrimination Verdict

Eight years after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Bosnia was guilty of ethnic discrimination, nothing has changed, said one of the plaintiffs in the high-profile case.

15/12/2017- Eight years after the European Court of Human Rights, ECHR ruled that the Bosnian authorities had discriminated against Dervo Sejdic and Jakov Finci by refusing to allow them to run for the Bosnian presidency because of their ethnicity, nothing has changed, said Sejdic. “I can only laugh at the statements [from politicians] that Bosnia and Herzegovina is respecting EU values or the standards of the Council of Europe,” Sejdic, a coordinator at the Roma Council, a state advisory body, told BIRN. Sejdic and Finci, Bosnian citizens of Roma and Jewish origins, appealed to the ECHR because according to the Bosnian Constitution, the Bosnian presidency must only consist of three members: one Bosniak, one Croat and one Serb. Since the ECHR ruled in their favour in December 2009, every attempt to reform the law has failed.

The European Union tried several times to find a solution to change the Bosnian constitution, but so far no progress has been made. “There is no strong reason to believe that in 2018 this verdict will be fulfilled, because over the years there has not been any progress,” Goran Markovic, a professor of law in East Sarajevo, told BIRN. Markovic said the three ethnic political elites are not ready for any compromise. “Resolving this situation is more than a question of discrimination, politicians see this as a question of their political power and they don’t want to jeopardise it,” he argued. Sejdic also said that discrimination against Roma people in particular remained widespread. Healthcare and education are problematic issues, and the Roma language cannot be found in schools as a minority language, he said.

An EU programme for the social inclusion of Roma did bring some improvements but much more needs to be done, he added. “The council of national minorities that exists on the state and entity level can only advise parliaments, but yet it is hard for them to have a strong impact, and that reflects the position of all minorities here, not just Roma,” Sejdic said.
© Balkan Insight

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Austria's Kurz says pro-EU stance secured in deal with far right

14/12/2017- Coalition talks between Austria’s far-right Freedom Party and conservatives led by Sebastian Kurz are drawing to a close and have laid down guarantees that the next government will be pro-European, Kurz said on Thursday. Kurz, who is just 31, led the People’s Party (OVP) to victory in a parliamentary election on Oct. 15, taking a hard line on immigration that often overlapped with that of the anti-Islam Freedom Party (FPO), which came third. People familiar with their coalition talks, which began on Oct. 25, said a deal might be reached as early as Friday evening and is likely to be struck over the weekend. That would end more than a decade in opposition for the FPO, which was led by the late Joerg Haider when it last entered government in 2000.

The FPO has backed away from calling for Austria to follow Britain by holding an “Oexit” referendum on leaving the European Union. It now says it is pro-European but critical of the bloc and wants to prevent further political integration. “It was important to the president, and to me, that the new government have a pro-European orientation. From my point of view, that has been secured,” Kurz told reporters after meeting President Alexander Van der Bellen, adding that he was confident of a deal before Christmas. Kurz did not say what those points were, but the talks are well advanced, with the parties having produced joint lists of planned policies, from lowering taxes while staying within EU budget rules to providing refugees with a “light” version of regular benefit payments for five years.

Taking Back Control
While those plans have often been expressed vaguely, Kurz and his party have obtained some specific concessions that would limit the FPO’s options if it were to turn against the EU. Points already agreed include moving some Foreign Ministry departments in charge of European affairs to the chancellor’s office, which Kurz will head, a person close to the coalition talks said. Those include the task force in charge of preparing for Austria’s EU presidency in the second half of next year and the section in charge of coordinating policy for various EU forums, including that of envoys to Brussels, the person said.

Items still being discussed include making it possible to call referendums by petition. Both sides agree on the principle, but the OVP wants a higher threshold -- around 10 percent of voters, while the FPO is pushing for 4 percent. Under the draft terms of their coalition deal, however, “direct democracy is restricted so that an `Oexit’ referendum is not possible”, one person familiar with the talks said, which a second confirmed. The deal will also ensure support for EU sanctions against Russia, one added, to guard against the FPO’s pro-Russian stance. Ministerial appointments have yet to be decided but the Foreign, Defence and Interior Ministries are set to come under the FPO’s control, that source said.
© Reuters.

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Poll: Four fifths of Czechs are against migrant quotas

14/12/2017- Four fifths of Czechs said the Czech Republic should not be fulfilling the EU quotas for accepting asylum seekers, according to the latest poll by the CVVM public opinion research centre released on Thursday. While 55 percent of the respondents said a definite no to the quotas, 25 percent tended to reject them and 11 percent supported them. The poll corresponds to a view of the public on the acceptance of migrants from Muslim countries even if facing the situation of the country losing the EU funds due to it. The latter threat does not impact the public opinion, CVVM wrote. In the Czech Republic and Slovakia, 81 and 82 percent of the countries' respondents, respectively, were opposed to the acceptance of migrants from Muslim countries and in Poland 74 percent were opposed to it. The opposition to meeting the quotas slightly decreases with an improving living standard and it is higher among voters of the left.

On the other hand, a higher share of those agreeing with the quotas is among the voters of the right centre. At an informal meeting this evening within the two-day EU summit in Brussels, the solution to the migration crisis will be debated. The Visegrad Four countries (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary) presented their willingness to help resolve the situation in another way than by accepting the asylum seekers at a joint meeting with EC President Jean-Claude Juncker and Italian PM Paolo Gentiloni. From April to October, the share of Czechs absolutely rejecting to accept refugees from countries hit by arms conflicts markedly increased to 69 percent. One fourth of Czechs would accept these refugees temporarily. Slovaks hold a similar position, while Poles are more open to accepting refugees from regions hit by war. Most Czechs consider refugees a major security threat for Europe (88 percent of them), the world (78 percent) and their country (76 percent).
© The Prague Daily Monitor

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Populist far-right leaders want no EU in future Europe

Far-right populists in Europe vowed Saturday to work together to create a new model of intercontinental cooperation that is far removed from the European Union.

15/12/2017- Leaders of parties from France, the Netherlands, Italy, Austria, Britain and other countries met in Prague to discuss ideas for Europe's future under the headline "For a Europe of Sovereign Nations." They attacked the EU for its migrant policies, accused its leader of trying to create a super state run by Brussels and praised U.S. President Donald Trump's approach to migration. Marine Le Pen, leader of France's far-right National Front, blamed the EU for getting "everything wrong." "Because we love Europe, we accuse the EU of killing Europe," Le Pen told reporters. She said parties like hers want to save Europe "by preserving nation-states." "We are not xenophobes, we are opponents of the European Union," Le Pen said. "I think this is something we have in common, because the European Union is a disastrous organization which is leading our continent to destruction through dilution by drowning it in migrants, by the negation of our respective countries, by the draining of our diversity."

Geert Wilders, founder of the Dutch anti-Islam Party for Freedom, followed suit. "My party is convinced that the Netherlands would be better off outside the European Union, and it will be better for our economy, for our security," Wilders said. Wilders singled out immigration and "Islamization" of Europe as the most pressing issues. "We must have the courage, to introduce travel bans as President Trump has done in the United States," he said. "We must have the courage to restrict legal immigration instead of expanding it. We must have the courage to repatriate the illegal immigrants." Parties with anti-immigration platforms have been making gains at the polls in Europe, although Wilders and Le Pen both ran unsuccessfully this year for the top political posts in their countries. More recently, Austria's far-right Freedom Party became a partner in a new coalition government after receiving more than a quarter of the vote in a parliamentary election.

Le Pen called it "very good news, excellent news for Europe." The meeting was hosted by the most anti-migrant, anti-Muslim, anti-EU party in the Czech Republic, Freedom and Direct Democracy. It finished fourth in October's parliamentary election, winning 22 seats in the 200-seat lower house of Parliament. The party wants to ban Islam, which it calls an ideology of hate. Its chairman, Tomio Okamura, is currently a deputy speaker of the house. Hundreds protesters joined a peaceful rally against the far-right gathering in Prague on Saturday.
© The Associated Press

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German right wing AfD has a new hero: FDP head Christian Lindner

The man tipped to be Chancellor Merkel‘s kingmaker and partner in government is now known as the "coalition killer." His popularity rates have plummeted - but he has found new friends, which may be a long-term strategy.

13/12/2017- How the mighty have fallen: One month ago, Free Democratic Party (FDP) leader Christian Lindner was a kingmaker — a key player in coalition talks to form a new government in Germany. Yet on Tuesday, magazine Der Spiegel named him their "loser of the day" for turning the FDP's successful resurgence in German national politics into a moment of crisis for the party. Some have hailed Lindner's decision to step away from coalition talks —  "it is better not to govern  than to govern badly," as he put it — as a mark of his political savvy, accrued from four years in the wilderness after the pro-business FDP failed to make the 5 percent hurdle to enter the Bundestag in 2013's national elections. Indeed, Lindner's actions could easily be read as him angling to enter the personality vacuum that will be left when Chancellor Angela Merkel finally decides to step down, as her Christian Democrats (CDU) appear unable to find an heir to replace her.

The AfD are celebrating'
In that vein, many analysts from within Germany as well as internationally have pointed out that the 38-year-old Lindner is not, as he appeared to some before the election, aiming to be "approachable but tough" a la Justin Trudeau or Emmanuel Macron. Rather, he appears to be channeling Austria's young, conservative Sebastian Kurz, who on Wednesday appeared mere days away from forming a nationalist government in Vienna. The 31-year-old Kurz managed, in the course of just a few months, to rebrand one of Austria's oldest political parties in his own image — going so far as to rename the Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) on the ballot as "the Sebastian Kurz list." Like Kurz and the ÖVP, the FDP's election campaign focused on slick, stylish and modern images of the party leader.

German journalist Ulrich Deppendorf called Lindner "mini-Kurz," adding that the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) was "already celebrating and indirectly praising Lindner," for walking away from coalition talks. Like Kurz, Lindner and the FDP are also hoping to siphon support away from the far-right by filing in the conservative gaps left by center-left and center-right governments. And in Lindner's case, perhaps taking away right-wing voters unhappy with how Merkel has led her center-right CDU towards the middle.

AfD like Lindner better than their own leader
Whether or not it's intentional, AfD supporters find Lindner appealing. According to a poll from public broadcaster ARD, after the FDP left coalition talks, 64 percent of AfD voters saw Lindner in a positive light — compared to just 25 percent before the September election. The nationalists even appear to prefer Lindner to their own co-leader, Alexander Gauland, who only has 58 percent approval. Lindner was swiftly losing support among non-AfD voters, however, falling 17 percentage points to only 28 percent approval according to ARD. The FDP itself has sunk from its election high of 10.7 percent support to around 8 percent.

Tumbling poll numbers are now causing mutinous rumblings among the Free Democrats, who until recently firmly stood behind their leader. "The FDP knows that without his turbo-campaigning, which was largely based on his own image, they would not be sitting in the Bundestag," Der Spiegel wrote. However, since the break up of coalition talks left Germany in political uncertainty, more FDP members are distancing themselves from Lindner. Party Secretary Nicola Beer has publicly voiced her disappointment at walking away from talks, and Lindner's deputy Wolfgang Kubicki has insinuated that he would be willing to return to the coalition negotiating table.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Should artists be allowed to stalk Germany's most radical far-right politician?

The artist collective Centre for Political Beauty has rented the house next door to Germany's most controversial politician and openly admit to using "Nazi methods" against him. Is everything allowed in the name of art?

13/12/2017- “We have done a DNA test on Höcke and the result is shocking: Höcke is a Portuguese immigrant with ancestors in Brazil, Portugal, France and Poland. He is not an ‘original German’", the Centre for Political Beauty (ZPS) tweeted last week. It was the latest stage in the artists' campaign against Björn Höcke, a senior member of the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) political party. The artists would not say how they obtained Höcke's DNA, revealing only that the tests were carried out in Austria where it is legal to conduct such a test without the consent of the person to whom the DNA belongs. One possibility is that the artists obtained the DNA after rummaging through Höcke's bins, something they have admitted to doing as part of their campaign of "using Nazi methods against the Nazis".

Around ten months ago the artists quietly rented the house next door to Höcke's in the small east German village of Bornhagen. They then started acquiring information on him. While they have remained evasive on the details, they have admitted to stealing his paper waste bin and claim they now "know everything about him and can end his political career”. As well as spying on the former history teacher, they have also built a miniature version of the Berlin Holocaust memorial in the garden and threatened to release compromising information if Höcke did not bend down in front of it and beg forgiveness for the Holocaust. This threat caused state prosecutors in Thuringia to get involved, suspecting the group of "attempted compulsion".

The artist collective's exact motives remain unclear. On the one hand they say they are purposefully using morally reprehensible behaviour to prove a point against a politician they accuse of pursuing a secretive Nazi agenda. On the other hand they have described themselves as a "civilian intelligence unit", arguing that their actions are justified by a failure of the state to watch over the firebrand politician. Höcke himself has called the group "terrorists" and has claimed they have been stalking his family. “Maybe one day Björn Höcke’s house will burn down and then four innocent children will be among the dead", he said theatrically, in a recent speech. The artist collective's behaviour has been so controversial that Höcke has found strange allies in his battle, including the left-wing minister-president of Thuringia, Bodo Ramelow.

"Political demonstrations in front of the private homes of politicians in unacceptable," Ramelow told Tagesspiegel. "Personal space needs to be protected. The tone in which this has been conducted, the way in which the artists have placed a whole village under suspicion of being Nazis, makes it hard to see what is art and what is simply a political stunt." "The victims of the Holocaust have been forgotten in this whole show - that is extremely regrettable," he added.

Not everyone in Germany agrees that the artists have gone beyond the pale, though. "It is dull to compare the Centre for Political Beauty's actions to Stasi methods - the serious threat posed by a powerful state against dissidents is completely different to artists' surveilling the representative of a party that is an enemy of democracy," wrote Spiegel columnist Georg Diez earlier this month. "Artists need to act in a volatile world in which the state and the media often don't do their job well enough," he argued. Those who have sought to justify the artists' actions have often pointed to Höcke's radical views as justification. The ZPS say that they decided to start spying on him after he gave an infamous speech in Dresden in January, which was so shocking to Germans that even his own far-right party decided to try and expel him (the process is ongoing).

In a speech in which he continually referred to Germany by using the word "Fatherland", Höcke accused the country's current leadership of being a corrupt dictatorship which had sold out its own people to foreign interests. To rapturous applause, Höcke said that Germans were a "brutally beaten people" and that the country was on the point of collapse due to "Americanization" and "the importation of foreign peoples". He added ominously that the AfD was "Germany's last peaceful chance" to save itself. Most controversially, he claimed that German politicians who said that Germany had a special duty to remember the Holocaust had "made speeches against their own people". In his own speech he portrayed Germans as victims during the Second World War, saying that the allies had attempted to destroy "the core of German culture" by bombing Dresden.

Höcke is also suspected of secretly writing for neo-Nazi magazines under a pseudonym. According to Thurinen24, an investigation commissioned by the AfD leadership came to the conclusion that Höcke had used the pen name Landolf Ladig when writing for publications associated with the neo-Nazi NPD party. "Where no light enters, that's where the mould grows," wrote Milosz Matuschek, a columnist for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung. "This project throws a lurid light on the readiness of the AfD and Höcke's supporters to use violence and it shows that German intelligence services aren't paying enough attention to what is going on in far-right milieus."
© The Local - Germany.

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Germany: Sweden's 'laser man' goes to trial for murder in Frankfurt

Sweden’s convicted "laser man," who shot migrants in the 1990s, has gone on trial in Frankfurt denying murdering a cloakroom attendant. Prosecutors suspect John Ausonius was later emulated by far-right murderers.

13/12/2017- John Ausonius' defense lawyer sought on Wednesday to have the Frankfurt trial abandoned, arguing that the 25 years since the attendant's murder conflicted with the principle of prosecuting crimes within a reasonable amount of time. Ausonius, 64, was extradited to Germany last year from Sweden, where, since 1994, he has been serving a life sentence for shooting 11 people, one fatally, in the Stockholm and Uppsala areas. The former military conscript used a rifle, equipped with a laser sight, to kill an Iranian engineering student in Stockholm in November 1991, and left other victims with severe disabilities. In pretrial coverage, media speculated that Ausonius' racially motivated spree might have been a blueprint for the 2011 massacre by Norwegian Anders Breivik and for the "National Socialist Underground” (NSU) far-right group thought to have murdered 10 people in Germany.

Restaurant employee
In Frankfurt's Regional Court, Ausonius is accused of maliciously murdering a 68-year-old attendant by shooting her from close range on an open street — between her workplace, a Mövenpick restaurant, and her apartment — and then riding away on a bicycle with her handbag. During a previous verbal exchange, he had accused her of having stolen his electronic calculator containing valuable data when she handed back his jacket in the cloakroom. Testifying on Wednesday, Ausonius did not address the attendant's killing but instead told the court he did not want to be seen as the "scapegoat” for the NSU murders.

Munich trial since 2013
Alleged NSU member Beate Zschaepe has been on trial in Munich since 2013. The 42-year-old is accused of being an accessory in the murders of eight Turkish migrants, a Greek citizen and a German policewoman, between 2000 and 2007. The far-right link emerged publicly only in 2011 when two other NSU members, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Bohnhardt, died in an apparent murder-suicide. Four other suspects are also on trial in Munich.

Diversion from robberies
Before the Frankfurt court, Wednesday, Ausonius also claimed that he staged the shootings in Sweden to divert police from bank robberies he committed. At the end of the Frankfurt trial, he is to be returned to Sweden to continue serving his life sentence.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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German neo-Nazi charged 17 years after terrorist attack

A neo-Nazi has been charged in connection with a bomb attack in the western German city of Düsseldorf in 2000 that injured several Jewish people. Observers are wondering why this has happened so long after the incident.

11/12/2017- Düsseldorf prosecutor Ralf Herrenbrück announced last week that the 51-year-old suspect Ralf S. would be charged, 10 months after his arrest in February, with 12 counts of attempted murder and one count of causing an explosion. A state court will now decide whether to take the matter to trial. The explosion from the home-made pipe-bomb attached to a footbridge at the Düsseldorf-Wehrhahn station in July 2000 injured several Jewish migrants, all from the former Soviet Union, who were learning German at a nearby language school at the time. One woman lost her unborn baby as a result of the attack, and five of the injured have joined the prosecutors as co-plaintiffs.

Evidence not pursued
The charges and the long delay of 17 years have raised questions about the initial investigation — especially in the light of the National Socialist Underground (NSU) murders, which showed that police and intelligence agencies avoided pursuing the lines of inquiry that led to Germany's far-right scene. Ralf S., a former soldier and known neo-Nazi who traded military memorabilia in a store in the area where the bomb went off, was identified as a suspect early on, but police failed to collect enough evidence to make an arrest. It was only several years later that Ralf S. was successfully connected to the crime, when he confessed to a fellow inmate while serving a short jail sentence for unpaid bills. The case was re-opened in 2014, leading to his arrest in February 2017. The prosecutors' 250-page indictment contains testimony from 96 witnesses as well as evidence from phone calls made by the suspect.

According to a report in the Kölner Stadtanzeiger newspaper, the suspect had called another well-known neo-Nazi in the area, Sven Skoda, to request the latter to supply him with an alibi, and had described "the Wehrhahn business" as the fourth happiest moment of his life after the births of his three children. Despite suspicions, an internal prosecutors' report a year after the bombing found that "neo-Nazis were to be seen as a rather improbable" cause of the crime — and suggested that a "crazy solo perpetrator" or eastern European mafia were to be seen as suspects.

Police problems
Maximilian Kirstein, a spokesman for the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, an anti-racism organization, said he did see some parallels with the NSU investigations. "In retrospect, it emerged that a few things were missed," he said. "For example, that the domestic intelligence had had an informant working in the perpetrator's shop." But he did say that it was "a good sign" that the case had been re-opened, and that the prosecutors had shown they wanted to investigate the matter — "just the fact that the act is being recognized for what it is, namely a far-right attack that was meant to kill people." Left party Bundestag member Martina Renner saw the Wehrhahn case as part of a pattern in which the police had avoided neo-Nazi explanations. "There are many such cases, and in the Wehrhahn case there were many questions why the investigating authorities didn't pursue possible neo-Nazi motivations," she told DW.

The problem, she said, was the assumptions the police made. "The police talk their way out of it by saying there was no letter claiming responsibility, and that therefore there was no political motivation — but when it comes to far-right crimes, the acts themselves represent a political message," Renner said. "They are messages to the community at which they are aimed, namely: 'You need to leave this country, and if you don't, we will kill you.' And that's how they are understood by the communities in question." Renner also said that she hoped prosecutors would do more than simply put Ralf S. on trial. "There will only be a complete investigation if there is room in the trial to look into whether there were accomplices — whether the bomb had been built with other people, or whether he had help checking the language school to see when the group of victims would leave," she said. "It's important not to simply pursue the single perpetrator theory, and the second thing is that they need to find out why the investigation wasn't carried out properly or may have been blocked."

None of this, she added, had so far been achieved with the NSU trial.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Netherlands: Wilders drops PVV Rotterdam campaign leader for far-right links

15/12/2017- The PVV’s candidate to lead the PVV local election campaign has been dropped by the party after just one day, following ‘unacceptable new information’. Géza Hegedüs, described as a former soldier with a Hungarian background, has been unveiled by far-right watchdog Kafka as having ‘extreme right-wing ideas’ and close connections to Dutch far-right group Erkenbrand. He told Erkenbrand in a podcast last year that ‘the big mistake which is made in nationalist circles, and you see it with Geert as well, is that everything revolves around the Mohammedan,’ he said. ‘But it is about more than the Mohammedan. It is about non-white, non European peoples. That makes it tricky.’ In addition, a message is circulating on Facebook in which he congratulated holocaust denier David Irving on his birthday, saying ‘you really have my respect’. His personal Facebook page, with texts in Hungarian, is full of photographs of marching soldiers. Wilders described the claims about Hegedüs, who is a dual national, as ‘unacceptable and inappropriate for a PVV politician.’ ‘I deeply regret this,’ he said. ‘If we had known, Mr Hegedüs would never have been placed on the list.’
© The Dutch News

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Netherlands: Refusal to rent home to ethnic minority couple sparks new racism debate

An email sent by a broker informing a Dutch-Moroccan couple that a home in Ter Aar they were interested in renting can only be rented by people of Dutch origin, again sparked a racism debate in the Netherlands.

13/12/2017- The couple went to look at the home in the Zuid-Holland town and decided they were interested, so they sent in all the documents the broker asked for. "The owner has chosen to only rent to people of Dutch descent. I am sorry to have to report this to you", read the email they received in response. One of the applicants posted a screenshot of the email on Facebook. "I know that there is a lot of racism, but effort is done to disguise it as we often see on the labor market", the applicant wrote on Facebook. "Apparently this also applies to the housing market. I am more shocked by the fact that it has become dead normal to discriminate. Being tactical is no longer necessary, although I appreciate the honesty of the person who typed this mail." The post received dozens of responses, mostly from people urging her to press charges.

The brokerage from Rijnsaterwoude in Zuid-Holland confirmed the authenticity of the email to NOS. "Of course I can tell these people a nonsense story, but the owner said this explicitly", the employee who typed the email said to the broadcaster. "We did not invent that ourselves. We do not have problems with people." One of the brokers at the company said that the brokerage made a mistake with this email and is ashamed of it. "The wording is very unfortunate, and certainly not what was meant. In the past the owner had bad experiences with migrant workers from the Eastern Bloc who rent a lot here, and said she doesn't want it anymore. She'd rather rent to a Dutch family, in the broadest sense of the word. So also Moroccan-Dutch, Dutch-Moroccan or whatever you want to call it." The brokerage will apologize to the couple and explain the story. "If the house is still available, we want to offer it to them, otherwise a different house, perhaps with priority", the broker said to NOS.

Hans van den Heuvel of brokerage trade association VBO called this a fine example of how things shouldn't be done. "We all have to adhere to the anti-discrimination principle", he said to the broadcaster. If a homeowner makes such a request, the broker should discuss it with him or her. "It often comes from negative experiences: damage or nuisance from drunken or noisy people. If a home is up for rent again, it is the chance to do it right. Then he crosses the line." According to Van den Heuvel, it is then up to the broker to point out unacceptability to the owner. "I understand your concerns, but you are also bound to decency." Earlier this year a brokerage in Amsterdam also made headlines when it informed an prospective tenant that the apartments she was looking at
© The NL Times.

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Dutch Minister plans major overhaul of integration policy, language lessons from day 1

12/12/2017- Current government policy on integration needs a complete overhaul, junior social affairs minister Wouter Koolmees says in Tuesday’s Telegraaf. The minister told the paper he is shocked at the scale of the problems he has encountered since taking up office and intends to totally reform integration policy. In particular, Koolmees wants to introduce language lessons ‘from day one’. ‘We know that proficiency in Dutch is extremely important for a person’s options in the labour market. It is very simple. I want to raise the standard in order to increase people’s chances of finding work.’ As soon as people arrive in the Netherlands they will go through a sort of scan to determine more about them, their level of education and their experience. This will enable local authorities, who will be in charge of the process, to plan the best integration programme for the individual, he said. A spokesman for the social affairs ministry told DutchNews.nl that the new strategy still needs to be worked out in detail and will take time to implement but that the idea of screening would apply to all new arrivals who are required to go through the integration process. ‘The idea is to see what everyone needs so that people who need more help will get it,’ the spokesman said. ‘There is a difference between what the refugee needs and, say, someone who has come here to work. It is about offering a tailor-made approach.’

Quality
The minister told the Telegraaf said he wants local councils to buy the courses from private agencies on the basis of quality, pointing out that the newcomers, who have to pay for the process themselves, are the ones suffering from poor teaching. Koolmees said that the problems would not be solved overnight. ‘There is clearly a serious problem but I see it as a challenge to better structure policy,’ he said. ‘But I not going to promise the earth. This will always remain a complicated subject.’
© The Dutch News

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Study: austerity helped the Nazis come to power

In 1930, the German government embarked on massive tax hikes and spending cuts.

12/12/2017- Thousands of historians, economists, sociologists, and other researchers have spent more than 80 years trying to make sense of the Nazi Party’s sudden rise to power. The standard explanation is that German voters flocked to the party in Germany in 1932 and 1933 in response to the pain of the Great Depression, which conventional parties proved unable to end. But others have sought to explain Hitler’s coup, in whole or in part, by reference to German culture’s obsession with order and authority, to centuries of virulent German anti-Semitism, and to the popularity of local clubs like veteran associations, chess clubs, and choirs that the Nazis used to help recruit.

A new paper by a team of economic historians focuses on another culprit: austerity, and specifically the package of harsh spending cuts and tax hikes that Germany's conservative Chancellor Heinrich Brüning enacted from 1930 to 1932. In the paper, released through the National Bureau of Economic Research, Gregori Galofré-Vilà of Bocconi University, Christopher M. Meissner of UC Davis, Martin McKee of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and David Stuckler at Bocconi are clear that they don’t think austerity tells the whole story. It’s one factor among many. But they think austerity helps fill in some gaps in the conventional, Great Depression-focused narrative of the rise of the Nazis.



The authors don’t think the Great Depression alone explains Nazism
There’s a hole in the traditional argument that the Great Depression explains the rise of the Nazis: Lots of other countries suffered during the Depression, too, without collapsing into totalitarian dictatorships. “During the 1920s, there was no substantial difference in the economic performance of nations that, in the mid-1930s, were democratic regimes or dictatorships,” the authors note. “The depth of the depression was only slightly greater in Germany than in France or the Netherlands, and was even worse in Austria (and other eastern European nations) and the USA.” Of those countries, Austria also saw a radical right-wing dictatorship come to power under Engelbert Dollfuss, in 1932. But France, the Netherlands, and the US did not see radical right-wing parties take office.

Also troubling for the most simplistic economic explanation is the fact that unemployed people weren't particularly likely to vote for Nazis. The authors cite reams of research showing that the unemployed were likelier to vote for the Communists or the Social Democrats. “It was not that Hitler did not try to appeal the unemployed masses,” they note, “but rather that the Communist Party was perceived as the party that traditionally represented workers’ interests.” One uniquely German factor that might help explain the Nazis' rise are the harsh war reparations, totaling 260 percent of Germany's 1913 GDP, that World War I's victors imposed under the Treaty of Versailles. As early as 1920, John Maynard Keynes was warning that the economic pain caused by forcing Germany to pay that debt could lead to the rise of a dictatorship.

But the authors note that Germany's debt was mostly not repaid; US President Herbert Hoover announced a moratorium on the payments in 1931, and then they were suspended by the Allies in the Lausanne Conference in 1932. They do not dismiss the idea that the reparations played a role, particularly after Brüning, in his role as chancellor, publicly denounced the reparations system in 1931, which led international capital markets to worry that Germany wouldn't repay its debts, and made it harder for the country to borrow. The authors just don’t think that it, and the Great Depression itself, are sufficient explanations.

Germany was the only major Western country implementing austerity
That's where austerity comes in. The scale of the cutback that Brüning enacted from 1930 to 1932 is truly staggering. The authors estimate that Brüning cut German government spending by about 15 percent, after inflation, from 1930 to 1932. He raised income taxes on high earners by an average of 10 percent, and slashed unemployment, pension, and welfare benefits. The economic consequences were horrific. GDP fell by 15 percent, as did government revenue. Unemployment increased from 22.7 percent to 43.8 percent. Brüning came to be known as the “Hunger Chancellor.” “Although Germany was not the only country hit by the Depression, it was the only major country to implement prolonged and deep austerity measures,” the authors write. Britain, by contrast, actually increased government spending during this period.

Galofré-Vilà, Meissner, McKee, and Stuckler are hardly the first people to tie the pain caused by austerity to the rise of the Nazis, but they’re among the few to have tried to quantify the effect. They first estimate the level of austerity in each state and district in Germany using each local area’s average tax rate. While Brüning’s government increased income taxes across the board, most income taxes were local, so the federal tax hikes resulted in different-sized tax hikes in different areas. And, the authors find, areas that saw bigger increases in their average tax rates also saw larger vote shares for the Nazi Party in the July 1932, November 1932, and March 1933 elections. They find similar results if you define austerity as state and local spending cuts, or use a measure combining both spending cuts and changes in income or wage tax rates. "Regardless of how we measure austerity, the estimated association of austerity with the Nazi vote share is positive and statistically significant in most of the models considering the different elections between 1930 and 1933," they conclude.

According to one estimate, a 1 percent increase in spending cuts is associated with a 1.825 percentage point increase in the Nazi vote share. The results are even stronger if you look only at cuts to municipal pensions, unemployment support, and health care, and they hold up if you use Nazi party membership as the dependent variable, rather than Nazi vote share. “At the upper end of these point estimates,” the authors write, “it is plausible to argue that the Nazis might never have achieved power in March 1933 since it would have required coalition partners to supply up to 11 percent of the votes.” In reality, after the March election (during which Hitler was already Chancellor) the Nazis maintained their coalition with the hard-right German National People's Party (Deutschnationale Volkspartei, or DNVP), which controlled about 8 percent of votes in the Reichstag.

The difference between being 8 percent short of a Reichstag majority and 11 percent short might not seem very large. And, to be sure, it’s possible Hitler would’ve been able to retain the chancellorship even if he had slightly fewer Reichstag seats. His rise to power was not purely electoral: the 1933 election was characterized by widespread violent intimidation, especially targeting Social Democrats and Communists, by Nazi militias. At the time of the election, German President Paul von Hindenburg had already issued the Reichstag Fire Decree, giving Hitler vast powers to suppress dissent. He’d eventually use those powers to arrest all Communist and some Social Democratic members of the Reichstag, allowing, within weeks of the election, the passage of the Enabling Act and Germany’s all-out collapse into dictatorship. Perhaps Hitler could’ve used the same powers to seize control of the German state despite a lower vote total.

But the results are nonetheless a reminder of how shaky Hitler’s parliamentary coalition was, and how a vote swing of a few percentage points could have threatened to end his tenure as chancellor less than two months after it began.

Drawing inferences is hard, especially about other countries
So why did the Nazis, rather than the Communists or the Social Democrats, benefit from anti-austerity fervor? Well, for one thing, the Social Democrats were the junior partner to Brüning’s Centre Party in the governing coalition, and were punished for the pain of austerity accordingly. The Communists did pick up a lot of votes, particularly among the unemployed and working classes, at the same time that the Nazis were rising. While the authors don't give a definitive answer, they note that the Nazis ran on an anti-austerity platform, complementing their hypernationalist and anti-Semitic themes. They promised tax breaks, to "maintain the social insurance system," to secure "a generous expansion of support for the aged," and to expand investment in highways.

This didn’t spark support for the Nazis among the unemployed and lower classes, who flocked to the Communists instead. But it did, the authors write, strike a chord “among middle- and upper-classes who, despite the depth of the Depression (i.e., after controlling for the level of output and employment) still had something to lose.” Moreover, these class segments might have resented that post-austerity, benefits were more tightly limited to the poor and unemployed. The middle and upper-classes were hurting as well, without much government support. The Nazis promised to change that for them.

As the study makes clear, austerity is one factor among many and not the primary cause of the surge in support for the Nazis. The magnitudes of the authors’ estimates are just not that high. And generalizing from the German case, support for radical right-wing movements in the present day sometimes arises out of deep austerity, but sometimes doesn’t. Greece’s depression and harsh austerity packages have helped the rise of the openly neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, while Spain, which has also suffered through years of austerity, hasn’t had much far-right activity of which to speak.

Meanwhile, the US is the only major Western country in the past decade to have a right-wing populist head-of-government, a head-of-government elected following austerity measures like the sequester and return of the Bush tax cuts that were, in international perspective, rather mild. But the paper is nonetheless a warning that austerity might, all else being equal, make it easier for radical right-wing politics to flourish. It might not be a sufficient or even a necessary condition. Yet it’s a factor worth examining more closely.
© Vox.
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Website Documents Police Violence Against Refugees in Balkans

The German NGO Rigardu has launched a website gathering reports of illegal push-backs and police violence this year against refugees using the so-called Balkan Route.

11/12/2017- Marking International Human Rights Day, the German human rights NGO, Rigardu, has launched a website documenting allegations of police violence against mostly Middle-Eastern refugees traveling westwards along the so-called Balkan Route. The NGO, Volunteers of Rigardu, and two NGOs based on Serbia’s borders with Croatia and Subotica – No Name Kitchen and Fresh Response – have gathered 110 reports of alleged illegal push-backs over the border and police violence involving at least 857 refugees from January to late November this year. Some 52 of these cases included minors. Of the total, 289 come from Afghanistan, 116 from Pakistan and 123 from the Maghreb region. Other nationalities included people from Bangladesh, Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Cuba.

The report states that refugees suffered violence “such as beating, kicking, electric shocks and even dog bites, and were deprived of their belongings, including their clothes, and forced to wait for hours at sub-zero temperature”. Besides photos, the reports contain details of the violence used, the number of police officers involved, as well as the dates and locations of the incidents. “Three or four policemen beat the interviewed man with a fist to all body parts, also to his face, for about 10 to 20 minutes,” it said of a 27-year-old Pakistani, who testified about the violence he allegedly suffered from the Hungarian police in November. “The police put a branch of a tree to his mouth and, to fix it, rolled his jumper around his head. They shouted, ‘Don’t speak, go back to Serbia’,” another report said about an Afghan, who described the violence allegedly used by the Croatian police in October.

NGOs have registered repeated push-backs and violence on the borders between Slovenia and Croatia, Croatia and Serbia and Serbia and Hungary. Most of the violence was allegedly committed along the Serbian borders by the Croatian and Hungarian police, illegally deporting refugees back to Serbia. Slovenian police mostly pushed back refugees to Croatia, from where the police further pushed them back to Serbia, forming so-called "push-back chains". The report specifies that 76 of these cases were allegedly committed by the Croatian police, 16 by the Hungarian police and 12 by the Slovenian police. Rigardu said at least two-thirds of those interviewed had expressed a wish to apply for asylum. Therefore, the NGO claims that the push-backs violated the Geneva Convention, the European Charter of Human Rights and Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Croatia's Interior Ministry told BIRN that its police did not use undue force. Officers carried out their duty to try to prevent migrants from illegally entering Croatia, without expulsions. “We do not support any form of violence or intolerance by police officers, especially towards migrants who are in a vulnerable position and seek international protection in the Republic of Croatia. However, no such event has been confirmed so far,” it said. Slovenia's Interior Ministry told BIRN it was also not aware of such alleged conduct on the part of its police. “As the Slovenian police is committed to maintaining high standards of professionalism and the legality of its work, especially in upholding human rights, your claims have come as a great surprise. We are not aware of any such cases of push-backs and violence by the Slovenian police,” the ministry stated.

The Hungarian Interior Ministry told BIRN that it wished to draw “attention to the fact that the Hungarian police protect the borders of the EU and Hungary”. It said that the state prosecutor's office had all the information on all potential disciplinary processes against police who may have used violence. The state prosecutor's office did not reply to BIRN’s inquiry by the time of publication, however. Rigardu reported about the Croatian police' use of violence against refugees in late June, which the Interior Ministry then denied. Other groups have also reported police violence and the unlawful treatment of refugees earlier this year, however. In January, the Jesuit Refugee Service reported the Croatian Interior Ministry to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, and to the Croatian ombudsman's office, for illegally deporting refugees to Serbia.

The same month, Human Rights Watch said the Croatian police were not respecting the rights of asylum-seekers arriving in the country and had been pushing them back to Serbia. The refugee crisis on the so-called Balkan route, which struck Croatia in September 2015, has eased since Balkan countries collectively closed their borders to refugees and migrants in March 2016.
© Balkan Insight

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Greece: The women of Golden Dawn

10/12/2017- “I am overwhelmed by all the attention ‘Golden Dawn Girls’ has gotten already. Right now I need to have full focus on everything that needs to be done for the premiere in Amsterdam, but as things look now we’ll be able to show the film in Greece in 2018,” says Havard Bustnes, a Norwegian filmmaker who has been inundated by interview requests from Greece since the release of the trailer for his new documentary on the women behind the men of Greece’s far-right party. The reason for this attention is that Bustnes achieved something many have tried and failed at: getting unprecedented access into the private lives of key members of a party that stands accused of orchestrating dozens of brutal attacks against migrants and detractors, but also of murder.

Kathimerini traveled to Amsterdam for the documentary’s premiere, but also to speak to the filmmaker who dedicated four years of his life to this project. “When I was a kid I used to come to Greece for holidays and for a guy from the cold north your country was like a paradise,” says the 44-year-old filmmaker. “When I learned that Golden Dawn were the fifth biggest party I was shocked and I really wanted to understand more about it.” Bustnes knew that getting access would be tough, but he was lucky. Christian Falch, a close friend – and one of the documentary’s co-producers as it turned out – had just finished filming a music documentary called “Blackhearts” on the Norwegian heavy metal scene.

One of his subjects was Giorgos Germenis, the 39-year-old musician and a prominent Golden Dawn MP who goes by the moniker Kaiadas (after the bottomless pit the ancient Spartans were said to toss their unfit children and enemies into). Falch’s crew had already spent a lot of time with Germenis and his family, so when the Greek MP was imprisoned as part of the ongoing trial against Golden Dawn, he and Bustnes approached Germenis’s wife with the idea of making a documentary about the women in the party. Evgenia Christou agreed without hesitation. “She never asked anything about me, much less my political position,” says Bustnes.

Rocky start
The Norwegian filmmaker was warned by several journalists to tread cautiously as soon as he embarked on the project. We see him in the film trying to pass unnoticed as much as possible, often dressing in black – Golden Dawn’s color of choice. He is not always welcome and on several occasions is seen being ordered to switch off the camera while filming at party headquarters. Christou intervenes: “He wants to show that we’re regular people, with families.” “Are you sure it won’t be shown on ERT or something?” Ilias Panagiotaros, another prominent party official, asks her in reference to Greek public television. “Come on, he’s Norwegian,” she responds.

Christou introduced Bustnes to Dafni Iliopoulou, the mother of indicted lawmaker Panagiotis Iliopoulos. At the home where the MP grew up, beside a swimming pool flanked with pseudo-Grecian statuary, she explains that she spent years supporting the socialist PASOK party before joining Golden Dawn, “the only nationalist party in Greece.” We see her later in the film dusting her collection of rifles and teaching her grandchildren how to hold a gun (using a replica), while offering her explanation of the accusations against the party: “[Former prime minister Antonis] Samaras went to a Jewish council in America and they told him to take down Golden Dawn at any cost.” “Let’s not kid ourselves; we’re being tapped through our phones as we speak,” she warns at another point, bringing up another conspiracy theory.

Access to the third protagonist, Ourania Michaloliakou, the outspoken daughter of party leader Nikos Michaloliakos, took a little longer but appeared relatively simple. “It took at least six months before we even met her. I didn’t pitch anything. She never asked. At some point she just accepted,” says Bustnes. Gaining her trust also took a while. “It was funny, because at the beginning we were only allowed to film on the first floor of the headquarters. I think it was a matter of them wanting to have control of the filming. But slowly we got access to the second floor, afterward the third and the fourth, and in the end we filmed Michaloliakou with her father on the fifth floor in his office,” he adds.

Bustnes’s camera also follows the subjects into their homes, to their meetings with lawyers and on prison visits. Throughout, the filmmaker asks them tough questions about the trial and the party’s fascist ideology. The filmmaker admits that the process was a constant tug-of-war with the subjects, and especially Christou, who wanted to have control over filming. In one scene we see Bustnes losing his patience when she staunchly denies an event that has been captured on video: “I saw it on the internet (…) is that something you didn’t want me to see? You want me only to see the good things, pictures of babies?”

There is a similar confrontation with Michaloliakou toward the end of the film. That filmmaker-subject relationship was complicated from the get-go. “She is the daughter of the chief; I have to be careful with my words,” Bustnes tells viewers as he steps into her apartment for the first time. Michaloliakou introduces him to Candy, a small white dog dressed in a white tunic with red bows, and shows him her collection of Disney movies and board games. “This is what we, the bad fascists, do. Sorry to ruin the myth,” she says. But the camera also captures her saying things like “We’ll drink their blood with a straw” when talking about party detractors or professing that she knows one of the witnesses who said she had been attacked by members of Golden Dawn is lying because “she wouldn’t be able to talk if she’d been punched by one our men.”

Bustnes remembers that the impression he had when he first met Michaloliakou was that she wanted a regular life and didn’t want to be an active part of Golden Dawn. “She was studying psychology and told me she wanted to go and study in Britain. She wanted to leave Greece,” he says. By the end of filming, he had changed his mind entirely. In one scene, he shows her photographs of her father giving the Nazi salute in front of the Third Reich flag. “I think he liked that period of history but, no, I don’t think he’s a Nazi,” she tells him. “Do you really believe that or is it a lie you tell yourself? You know, Ourania, you can love him and still say that you don’t support that part of him,” counters Bustnes, to her obvious annoyance.

“I support everything about my father. I support every single part about what he thinks, believes, does,” she says with an icy edge to her voice. The filmmaker persists, asking if she also supports the Nazi ideology and other uncomfortable questions, until Michaloliakou walks away. “Because we worked with her for so long, I really hoped there was something under the mask, that she could distance herself from her father. I hoped that she could say it – and she didn’t. Golden Dawn is her life,” says Bustnes. That scene was the last time he saw or spoke to Michaloliakou. Earlier this month he sent her a copy of the film but never got a response. Only Evgenia Christou sent him a few messages. “She was upset. I think she had hoped that this film would convince everyone that her husband was innocent. I couldn’t make that film,” he says.

Mission accomplished
We talk about the trial. Bustnes has been to the specially designed courtroom at Korydallos Prison twice and hopes to get permission to film a session at some point. I ask him whether he thinks Golden Dawn is guilty as charged. “I’m not an expert, so I can’t have an opinion on such a legal matter,” he says. “But of course you need a trial. Of course it’s important to have this trial.” Would you go testify if asked? “If I could, yes,” he answers, laughing yet somewhat surprised at the question. He explains that culpability was not what he was trying to explore with “Golden Dawn Girls.” “I wanted to understand them or at least try – I don’t know if it’s possible. But only if we understand who they are, what they believe in and how they think, will we know what we need to fight, what we need to stop,” he says.

True sympathies
Bustnes spent four years traveling between Greece and Norway for the film. The general elections of 2015 was one of the most intense periods he experienced. With the men in prison, he witnessed the three women coming out of the shadows and assuming a leading role in the election campaign, becoming dangerously powerful.
“We are like steel: The more you strike it, the harder it gets,” Christou tells supporters in a speech. “My son is in prison. He couldn’t be here to talk to you,” Iliopoulou tells shoppers as she hands out fliers at a farmers’ market. “It’s better he’s not here and can’t kill us,” says a passer-by. Later, at a taverna, a man comments that the party’s spokesman, Ilias Kasidiaris, has a reputation for using his fists. “We need someone like Kasidiaris with this lot. My son is soft,” she says.

Iliopoulos was one of the perpetrators of an attack against foreign vendors caught on camera at a farmers’ market in Rafina in September 2012 and is seen bullying them and smashing their stands with particular ferocity. “Can you describe what your son is doing here?” the filmmaker asks her as he shows her the footage. “He’s asking to see their papers and even thanks them (…) and because they’re illegal and selling counterfeit products, he demands their license and then the others with him overturn a stall. That’s all,” Iliopoulou replies.

Bustnes prefers to let the material speak for itself – and the subjects to expose themselves without being tripped up. In another scene, we see Iliopoulou telling a taxi driver that if someone accused her son of being a Nazi, he would get angry and may even “give them a slap.” In the next scene, we see older footage of Iliopoulos explaining to journalists that the reason why he has “Sieg Heil” tattooed on his arm is that he likes the font. The audience, needless to say, laugh out loud. “Why do you think they try so hard to hide the fact that they’re Nazis?” a member of the audience asks the filmmaker at the Q&A after the screening. “I think they are pragmatic, they want votes, and they understand they need to hide it,” answers Bustnes.
© The Kathimerini.

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UK: Q and A with Paul Giannasi

15/12/2017- Paul Giannasi is the manager of True Vision, where he gives information related to hate crimes in the UK.

What is True vision and their purpose?
True vision is a function apart of the police. I manage it on behalf of the National Police Chiefs Council. We did a review in 2009 to see how well third-party reporting was working. Third party reporting stems from a stigma inquiry where that there were a lot of victims who didn’t want to report directly to the police, as they might not trust the police, or they might not want to go to the police. So, third-party reporting was seen as a way for victims to go to somewhere they might consider a safer environment. We did a review to find there was a number of issues we identified, and one was the various roots that reports were taking, some were taken on paper, some were being emailed, so they were sent in different ways.

What we do is provide some of the tools to help victims to report it, either on behalf of a victim or the victim themselves. True vision is a facility that has three purposes one is to provide information to victims, professionals and advocates, another is to provide a library of resources and transparency in policies. So, you’ll see our guidance on there, the data, its got lots of resources so people can download or local material such as information packs. The second purpose is to allow people to report online, including anonymously if they choose to, you’ll also see a link there to report directly to the police. This is useful for situations such as someone being gay and not out to their family, so they don’t have walk in and tell the police this. So, reporting anonymously might be a more appropriate solution.

What are the most common hate crimes?
Racist hate crimes are the most common. We do crime surveys which found that 75 to 80% of the hate crimes we record are racist hate crimes. Religious hate crime often merges with racist hate crime. So, a victim who wears a hijab or a niqab, racist language may be thrown at them rather than religious language, even though what triggers the hate crime is them wearing religious clothing or leaving a religious building so you need to consider race and religion, as two sides of the same coin. This is because in a survey done in 2015, who was targeted the most was ethnic minorities that were of a religious background. What we also know is that some crimes that happen often are not reported. If you look at disability hate crime, the crime survey says that on average, 70,000 take place every year whereas we only recorded 5,000. So, disability hate crime is under-reported. Hate crimes also depend on the situation. When we looked at coastal areas like Dorset, the most common hate crimes were against people who worked in the night time. This is probably because they are the places that are more likely to be exposed to people who are drunk and groups of people.

Hate crimes prevalent online or real life?
There’s definitely a move online, it’s probably an additional than one being more common than the other. So, they work together. There’s a theory that states being more exposed to hate material, it makes people more scared and more likely to act out violently because they are motivated to exposure of hatred similar to what they hold. There is this argument that the internet is an additional or whether it’s the cause or its an effect on how we exist. The nature of the rapid expansion of the internet and social media, meaning that things we were dealing with occasionally like online abuse 10 years ago are mainstream now. This happens all over the world, but I don’t think it’s a movement from offline to online, I feel it’s an addition of the element of online. Hate sites have been there for as long as the internet, so for people to express this hate online, emphasises there is division in this society.

Do you feel the government are doing everything they can to prevent hate crime?
We are doing better than any other state as opposed to us completing the job. The first issue to get people responding is giving victims all the sources they need, so they can report. If you look at Greece, they recorded 40 and Italy reported 500 hate crimes in a year. For Alabama last year, they recorded 10 hate crimes and obviously, this state has deep seated racial divide. The UK is one of the successive governments to keep up with hate crimes, since the Steven Lawrence inquiry in 1999. I’d say we have the strongest response in the world for this issue. But more work needs to be done. We have an advisory group that is made up of advocates, academic and victims, who would say that we made some progress. They would also say we aren’t as well developed when it comes to looking at internet behaviours and responses.

Do you feel hate crimes are fuelled by the current political climate or by other factors?
There are divisions that appear at the time of the EU referendum, that didn’t happen in isolation, but they definitely lead to a spike in recorded hate crime. The issue was that more about awareness on reporting these crimes or more hate crimes. Our official review from the police was that we believe there’s evidence of three factors one was created by a division in society, there was a greater alertness and awareness of hate crimes, so people were more likely to report things when they did happen. We also noticed there was a lot of people indignant of what was happening, they were reporting things. We think it’s a number of things, obviously, the spike was significant, the home office recorded a 41% increase over an 11-week period. It didn’t happen in isolation of course, around the time of the referendum, Jo Cox was tragically murdered which would have an impact. There were also the terrorist attacks, which also have an impact. It’s impossible to say what the cause was and whether the actions of individuals involved were a level of hostility was released, came to the surface, where people were liberated to do so.
Written by: Angel Keene
© BUzz

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UK: Neo-Nazis target Cambridge in sick anti-Semitic sticker campaign

Members of The System Resistance Network (SRN) put up the flyers on a sign for Christ’s Pieces

13/12/2017- A neo-Nazi group has targeted Cambridge - distributing and posting anti-Semitic flyers. Members of The System Resistance Network (SRN) put the flyers on a sign for Christ’s Pieces park and distributed them around the city. Flyers distributed near Cambridge University juxtaposed a swastika over legal scales with the text ‘Justice Awaits You’, according to TellMAMA, a group that monitors anti-Muslim attacks. Richard Rose, of Cambridge Unite Against Fascism, was appalled having just returned from a visit to Poland to see Auschwitz and The Krakow Ghetto.

He said: "It is very concerning that such vile propaganda has been distributed in and around Cambridge. "We are a diverse city which prides itself on its multiculturalism and its welcoming of peoples from other countries. "This has been proved in the way residents have welcomed refugees and raised money for aid convoys (such as Saturday's Stand Up to Racism Winter Aid Convoy), and by the way Nazi groups such as the EDL have been sent packing when trying to organise or demonstrate in Cambridge. "However the recent climate where some of those in the establishment seek to scapegoat refugees and migrants for the current economic crisis has created a space where racism can start to spread its poison. "Islamophobic outbursts from those in power have lead to a situation in which such views are almost normalised and Muslims consequently see an alarming rise in hate crime directed at them.

"These are worrying developments, ones which Cambridge Stand Up to Racism will always work to combat. "While Nazi groups such as The System Resistance Network (SRN) are still minuscule and insignificant in Britain, a look across at mainland Europe or back in history just 70 years shows that there is no room for complacency.  "This is why Cambridge Unite Against Fascism, along with the National Education Union (NUT Section) has organised a meeting for Holocaust Memorial Week called 'Never Again - Lessons of the Holocaust' in the Friends Meeting House on January 22 at 7.30. "We hope to use this to involve more people in the campaign against racism and fascism. Despite the current climate (and antics of Donald Trump) we are determined to keep the Nazis at the edges of British society and to organise to reverse the growth of racism. See cambsagainstthenazis.co.uk for more info."
© The Cambridge News

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UK: Woman in Muslim dress pelted with egg thrown from car

Police are investigation the incident of hate crime in Lincoln

11/12/2017- Police have launched an investigation after a woman wearing Muslim clothing was a victim of a hate crime in Lincoln. Officers say a dark-coloured vehicle, believed to be a Peugeot, slowed down before the occupants threw an egg at the victim. Enquiries are ongoing into the incident which took place on November 20, between 9.30pm and 10pm, along the High Street in the area of Gowts Bridge, Lincoln, towards South Park. Police say the victim was wearing a hijab. Information about the incident was only released today, December 11, as police intensify their efforts to catch the culprits. The vehicle was seen driving off towards the town centre.
© Lincolnshire Live

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Northern Ireland: Britain First cancelled Belfast rally due to bad weather

Right-Wing controversial group Britain First were prevented from having a rally in Belfast

10/12/2017- The protest was to oppose charges taken against deputy leader Jayda Fransen. The 31-year-old deputy was arrested in Bromley by the PSNI and was charged with using the threatening and abusive language outside Belfast City Hall earlier this year. The group confirmed they wouldn’t make the rally: “Unfortunately because of this snowstorm that’s causing chaos at most UK airports, we are not going to be able to make it over to Belfast today. We’ve been stranded here at the airport.” Britain First are best known for their social media presence and anti-Muslim sentiment.
© The Irish Post

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Far-right mayor of French town denies using woman's murder to promote high-speed trains

Politicians condemn Robert Menard for publishing adverts using image of woman tied to tracks

13/12/2017- A far-right mayor in France has denied mocking the murder of a woman on a train track in a poster campaign calling for a high-speed rail network extension. Robert Menard, mayor of Beziers, tweeted out posters showing a woman tied to train tracks and screaming under the caption “With High-Speed Trains she would have suffered less!” The images caused outrage among politicians and members of the public who said they made a “despicable” reference to a recent murder case. A 34-year-old woman named only as Emilie died in the northern town of Beauvilliers in June when her husband, named as Guillaume, tied her to railway tracks before taking his own life. Marlene Schiappa, minister for equality, said she had told the local authorities to “examine and take all possible recourses” to deal with the “hateful campaign”. The youth branch of left-wing party France Insoumise labelled the campaign as “apologism for violence against women and femicide”.

Laurence Rossignol, a senator and former minister for women said, “I have filed a complaint with the public prosecutor demanding the removal of the posters as well as legal action against their authors.” Mr Menard replied that he had not heard about the woman’s death, saying it was “vile of Rossignol to use it against us”. Another of the posters, which have been put up around Beziers, shows an obstetrician holding a large model of a TGV train over a woman’s legs in stirrups. It reads, “TGV Occitaine, are you ready to give birth?” Mr Menard, a former journalist who was elected in 2014 with the support of the National Front, has previously been accused of turning his town in the South of France into a laboratory for the far-right. The president of the Socialist Party in the Occitaine region, Carole Delga, said Mr Menard’s “quest for attention at all costs” was “despicable” and had only harmed the local government’s efforts to bring high-speed trains to the region.
© The Independent

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French opposition elects hard-right leaning leader

Laurent Wauquiez took 74.6% of Les Républicains votes, on an anti-immigration, anti-welfare platform that critics say plays into Front National hands

10/12/2017- France’s bitterly divided conservative opposition party has elected a new hardline leader, marking a move away from centre ground toward the territory of the far right. Laurent Wauquiez will take control of the Les Républicains (LR) party after its disastrous performance in the presidential election earlier this year when its candidate, François Fillon, failed to make it into the second-round vote. Wauquiez was elected president of LR on Sunday with 74.6% of the votes. However, less than half of the 235,000 paid-up party members bothered to cast a ballot. In total, just under 99,600 voted. Wauquiez has run a hawkish leadership campaign, running on an anti-immigration and anti-welfare programme, and has worried some party heavyweights with his possible “porosity” to far-right Front National ideas. He refused to call on LR supporters to back Emmanuel Macron against the FN’s leader, Marine Le Pen, in the second round of the presidential vote in May.

There were two other, largely unknown, candidates but members gave Wauquiez, 42, a clear victory, making a second-round vote unnecessary. Wauquiez is expected to consolidate his victory by appointing a youthful shadow cabinet to challenge Macron and raise the party from what he described as the ruins of its presidential catastrophe. His hard-right line does not, however, have unanimous support. Franck Riester, a former LR member of parliament, has left the party, accusing Wauquiez of playing into the FN’s hands. “By running after the Front National, we will end up by giving the far right power,” Riester said recently. Valérie Pécresse, a former budget minister under Nicolas Sarkozy and influential leader of the Ile de France region, said Wauquiez’s victory could shrink, or at worst, destroy LR. “It’s a risk. To avoid it we have to accept our differences and not try to bury them,” she has said.

Pécresse said the party had to learn the lesson of its defeats in 2012, when Sarkozy lost the presidential election to Socialist François Hollande, and 2017, when Fillon’s chances were destroyed by a financial scandal. Above all, she said, it had to avoid being a conduit for FN ideas. “Each time, there’s the reflex to creep towards the hardcore right,” she said. There should be no “porosity with the Front National … that’s a red line. If the right ends up on that slippery slope, then it’s no longer my right.” Until now, the LR, previously led by Sarkozy, had followed the centre-right tradition that has been a dominant force in French politics, providing an umbrella for centrists, economic liberals and those who leaned further to the right. Macron, however, has captured the centre ground in French politics and headhunted some of the LR’s emerging stars, including his prime minister, Édouard Philippe, and budget minister, Gérald Darmanin.

Wauquiez, a devout Catholic, supports economic protectionism and state intervention to regulate the economy, takes a tough line on immigration and social welfare – he considers France’s social model obsolete – and is opposed to the 35-hour maximum working week, same sex marriage and IVF. He has promised “intransigent secularism” seen as anti-Islam, and believes France should not have to apologise for events in its past, all subjects that echo with the far right, though he recently rejected doing any deals with the FN. Hervé Gattegno, the editor of Le Journal du Dimanche and a political commentator, said Wauqiuez risked pushing more moderate conservatives into the arms of Macron’s ruling La République en Marche. “

The more radical Laurent Wauquiez becomes, the more the centrist and moderate LRs are tempted to rally to the president. So it’s a strategy of making the right more extreme, which doesn’t seem to be to be very clever. “Perhaps he hasn’t understood what most [centre] right voters have and what all the opinion polls reveal: the real head of the [centre] right is, for the moment, in the Elysée. It’s Emmanuel Macron,” Gattegno told Europe1 radio.
© The Guardian.

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Italy: Thousands march against 'fascism'

Thousands of people joined a march against fascism in northern Italy on Saturday, in response to anti-immigration action by far-right groups.

9/12/2017- "Today in Como is an important day. There are more than 10,000 of us taking part in this demonstration against all forms of fascism and intolerance," said Maurizo Martina, deputy secretary of Italy's centre-left Democratic Party (DP). Among the crowd marching in the northern town of Como, a rally organised by an alliance of left-wing parties, was former prime minister Matteo Renzi. Last week members of the far-right group Veneto Fronte Skinheads rushed an aid charity meeting in the town, denouncing "the migrant invasion". Days later masked activists from another far-right organisation, New Force, stormed the Rome offices of the daily Repubblica and L'Espresso weekly brandishing smoke cannisters and calling for a boycott of the publications which they said supported immigration. Earlier this week swastikas and other fascist insignia were daubed on the walls of a left-wing association in Udine, northeastern Italy. More than 114,000 migrants have landed in Italy so far this year, down 32 percent on the same period in 2016. Some observers have blamed the resurgence of fascism on rivalry between right-wing groups in the country.
© AFP.

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Headlines 8 December, 2017

Serbian Journalist Threatened After Grilling Rightwing Activist

N1 journalist Marija Antic received death threats on social networks after quizzing French-Serbian activist Arnaud Gouillon about his role in far-right movements.

8/12/2017- A Serbian journalist Marija Antic has said she received death and rape threats after grilling a far-right French activist Arnaud Gouillon about his views and activism. “The job of a journalist is to try to come to the truth. It’s for the audience to accept this truth or not,” Antic told BIRN. During her December 2 interview with French-Serbian citizen Arnaud Gouillon, known best in Serbia for his advocacy for Serbs in Kosovo, Antic asked him about his past involvement in the far-right Identity Movement in France. Gouillon said he had been a member of the Movement in the past but denied any current connection with it. Two days later, VICE website revealed that Gouillon had been a speaker at an Identity Movement event in 2012 at which participants wore pig masks to show contempt for Islam.

Antic also asked Gouillon about his connections with Serbia's own far-right 1389 movement, as he has attended some of its events, but Gouillon denied any real connection. Soon after the interview, Gouillon, who is head of an NGO called “Solidarity for Kosovo”, complained on social media that he had been “attacked” and said that N1 television had tried to “demonize” him. “It is obvious that they prepared themselves carefully for these attacks, and that they intended to demonize me in order to look like a bad guy,” he said. He added that 12,000 donors from France had backed him, and that his help for the Serbs of Kosovo over the last 13 years had been worth millions of euros.

Gouillon is known in Serbia for his advocacy for the Serbian minority in Kosovo, and has had a Serbian passport since 2015. The following year, Serbia's then President, Tomislav Nikolic, awarded him a medal for outstanding merits in the field of humanitarian work. Antic insisted she had treated him in same way as any other guest on N1 . “I’ve said nothing new. It is all already known,” she said. Antic added police had summoned her on Thursday for talks about the threats she had received after Gouillon stated that the interview was the “attack” on him. Serbian human rights NGOs and the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality have condemned the threats. Gouillon, meanwhile, has called on the TV station “to stop the hunt that journalists of this media [outlet] are leading against me”. He said he would refuse any further contact with N1 until he received an apology.
© Balkan Insight

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French far-right militants convicted in mosque occupation

7/12/2017- The French far-right group Generation Identity and five of its members were convicted Thursday of organizing and taking part in a 2012 anti-Muslim demonstration on the roof of a mosque in the city of Poitiers, near where Arab invaders were stopped in the 8th century. In an especially strong response to the protest, the court handed down suspended prison sentences for each of the five and imposed fines and other penalties amounting to nearly 40,000 euros (nearly $47,200.) Generation Identity, calling the decision "a scandal," said on its Facebook page that the five would immediately lodge an appeal, and asked for donations from sympathizers. "The conviction of peaceful young citizens warning the French of the danger of the development of Islamism and massive immigration is particularly scandalous," the group's statement said, noting the terror attacks in Paris, Nice and elsewhere in France that have killed hundreds of people.

During the October 2012 demonstration, scores of people climbed atop a mosque under construction and unfurled banners. One read "Remember Charles Martel," who led the 732 battle to halt a Muslim advance in Europe. The group demanded a referendum on the building of mosques to cries of "In Poitiers, neither kebabs nor mosques." Generation Identity, a French group with a presence in other European countries promotes the interests of what it regards as the continent's original inhabitants. The group claims that immigration by Muslims poses a danger to European culture and tradition. The mosque occupation, filmed by a major French TV station that had been alerted in advance, was among Generation Identity's biggest publicity stunts. Last summer, the group chartered a ship and sent activists into the Mediterranean Sea to try to stop aid groups from rescuing migrants trying to get from Libya to Italy.

The five said in a statement during their October trial that they were simply "whistleblowers." "By this decision, the justice of our country has clearly shown it has chosen its camp: that of Islamists ... against the defenders of France," Generation Identity said Thursday. Four of the five received suspended one-year prison sentences and lost their civic rights for five years, including the right to vote, the court clerk's office said. The fifth received a suspended sentence and lost the right to run in elections. All five must help pay an assortment of fines in damages and lawyers' fees that amount to nearly 40,000 euros. That includes a fine of 10,000 euros ($11,800) handed to Generation Identity.
© The Associated Press

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Far-Right Hungarian MEP Charged with Espionage for Russia

Bela Kovacs said he would quit his party Jobbik in order to avoid the case being used as a political tool in the upcoming elections.

7/12/2017- European Parliamentary Member and Hungarian opposition politician Bela Kovacs (pictured) is facing charges of spying on the EU on behalf of Russia, according to Hungarian prosecutors, cited by Reuters. Kovacs denied the allegations, and said that he was looking forward to the trial date, which hasn’t been announced, to clear his name in court. He also said that the case against him is likely intended as a way of deflecting attention from ruling party Fidesz’s ties with Russia. “I am almost positive this has a political relevance. It is no coincidence that it was brought up before elections. Now the court dates will probably fall in the thick of the election campaign, and clearly will be used to attack my party,” Kovacs told Reuters.

Hungary’s Constitution Protection Office in May 2014 filed a case against Kovacs, a member of the far-right Jobbik party, for allegedly spying on EU institutions for Moscow. He is married to a Russian-Austrian dual citizen, who had allegedly worked for the KGB, the Soviet Union's spy agency. Rumors had long circulated in Brussels about Kovacs’s alleged ties to Russian intelligence, earning him the nickname “KGBela.” He is also under investigation by OLAF, the EU's anti-fraud office, on suspicion of misusing funds meant for recruiting and paying assistants. Another Central European country has been dealing with a similar case this week. The Polish military police yesterday detained former military counterintelligence head Piotr Pytel for alleged illegal collaboration with the FSB, the Russian security agency that succeeded the KGB, Deutsche Welle reports.

The Polish opposition has said that Pytel’s arrest was politically motivated, with European Council President Donald Tusk tweeting his support, as well as for Pytel’s predecessor Janusz Nosek, who faces similar charges: "I am proud of having been able to work with Generals Pytel and Nosek while I was prime minister. They were and continue to be a shining example of responsibility, patriotism, and honor."
# The next Hungarian parliamentary elections will be held in April 2018. Laszlo Botka – the candidate for prime minister of Hungary’s largest liberal opposition party, the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) – pulled out of the race in October, in a further blow to the chances of left-center parties in next spring’s elections.
# The ruling Fidesz party had a popularity of 59 percent among voters at the end of October, according to a poll carried out by the Tarki Social Research Institute, and cited by the Hungarian Free Press. Jobbik was a distant second with 17 percent support. More than one-third of those polled, 34 percent, were undecided and unlikely to vote at all.
Compiled by Ioana Caloianu
© Transitions Online.

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The Changing Face of Hate in Poland: From Antisemitism to Anti-Muslim Racism

Faith Matters launches a ground-breaking paper looking at worrying levels of far-right anti-Muslim racism in Poland and anti-Muslim activism in the UK in Polish Communities

 


8/12/2017- Faith Matters is proud to launch a new briefing paper to outline some of the key dynamics and drivers of far-right narratives between the UK and Polish far-right. The new report, titled ‘From antisemitism to anti-Muslim racism: the evolving face of the far-right in Poland’, highlights how extremist groups like Britain First have continued to sow division by exploiting the religious sentiments of Poles in Britain to further their anti-Muslim agenda. This includes failed attempts to bring over antisemitic and anti-Muslim speakers, and the leadership of Britain First, namely its deputy leader, Jayda Fransen, has travelled to Poland to engage with such individuals like the antisemitic former priest Jacek Międlar. Faith Matters intends to use this report as a springboard to engage with Polish communities in Britain to start an interfaith dialogue that includes Christian, Muslim, and Jewish voices that will seek to counter the exclusionary and dehumanising narratives of the far-right with a dialogue that will not only seek to address more painful aspects of Polish history but also celebrate the contributions of its Muslim minorities.

By identifying key voices both in Britain and Poland, the report will seek to expose their views, in the hope of marginalising their voice, and empowering Poles to challenge attitudes online, in the home, or in community spaces. It took the combined efforts of voices within the Polish community to translate materials from the far-right politician Marian Kowalski which Faith Matters passed to authorities to prevent him speaking at a restaurant in London. Our concern remains that some will seek to use community spaces to push anti-Muslim or other hateful narratives away from media scrutiny. Other, more extreme neo-Nazi groups, like the National Rebirth of Poland (NOP), coordinated activities with both National Action and the National Front to do ‘whites-only’ foodbanks in Scotland and London. The NOP has also targeted NHS centres in small anti-abortion protests.

Steve Rose, the author of the report, said: “It’s clear that Britain First continues to exploit the religious sentiments of Poles to push an extremist narrative which mythologises a Christian Europe in opposition to very dehumanising anti-Muslim narratives which tap into wider anxieties towards cultural and national identity. This report seeks to challenge that, and highlight that antisemitism remains a key driver of far-right ideology, with anti-Muslim racism seeking further division in a country where Muslims have accounted for less than 1% of the population. What’s clear is that many Poles want to challenge this form of politics and this project will help provide a collaborative partnership to help build dialogue and see the contributions of Muslims historically and in Poland today. Additional research in this field of work will expand beyond the scope of this report and encourage more forms of counter-speech online and through community events in the months ahead.”

Fiyaz Mughal OBE, Founder and Director of Faith Matters said:
“We have been seeing far right extremist groups like Britain First actively tout key activists in Polish communities in Poland and the UK. Yet, during the national Brexit referendum, these very groups were promoting hate against Eastern European communities. This shows the cynical posturing of these far-right extremist groups in the vain hope that they will gain support.”

Key findings of the report, which will be accessible on the Faith Matters web-site, state that:
# A chronology of Islamophobic incidents in Poland demonstrates how some have exploited international events to attack Islamic institutions, including an attack on a mosque in Poznań, shortly after the Charlie Hebdo terror attacks in Paris in January 2015,
# Polling of European countries in 2016 found that negative views of minorities and refugees were commonplace. Negative views of Muslims were widespread in Italy (69%), Hungary (72%), and Poland (69%). It is perhaps unsurprising that almost a quarter of Poles interviewed expressed negative opinions towards Jewish communities. Ideological leanings to the right were indicators of increased unfavourability towards Muslims.
# Anti-refugee sentiment remains stubbornly high in Poland, even though the country has hardly taken in refugees post the Syria civil war. For example, just over half of Poles polled who expressed favourable views of Muslims had agreed that refugees pose a threat, though this jumps to 81% amongst the Poles who expressed unfavourable views of Muslims.      # Outside of Hungary, Poles expressed the most concern (71%) that refugees will increase the risk of domestic terrorism. Almost of a third of Poles agreed that Muslims in their country support ISIS, as a similar number declined to answer this question. As with other countries, Poles also overwhelmingly agreed that refugees were ‘drains’ on the welfare system.




# Perhaps these factors help explain how many Europeans uniformly overstate the size of their respective Muslim populations. In Poland, researchers found that on average, Poles believed that of every 100 people, seven are Muslim. The reality is that this figure is under 0.1%.
# Regarding population shifts, Poles believed that Muslims would make up 13% of the population in 2020. Pędziwiatr (2016) attributes this perception gap to the misinformation presented in sections of Polish press and by certain public figures.
# Social researchers, Gawlewicz and Narkowicz (2015), highlight how the rich Islamic history of the region is ignored, demonstrating how this panic is a modern problem, and reflective the political shifts in Poland in recent years. Some of the key social agitators, highlighted in the Faith Matters report are based in the UK and Poland.
# The history of the Polish Muslim Tatars is completely overlooked by social commentators who promote anti-Muslim hate, as though hundreds of years of engagement with Muslims that have shaped and made up a part of Poland’s history, simply do not exist.

Key Purveyors of Anti-Muslim Bigotry
The report lists these to be:

Miriam Shadad: Miriam Shadad was behind the attempted settlement of fifty Christian Syrian refugees in Poland in 2015, but most would leave Poland within months. She made various anti-Muslim remarks when interviewed in the Financial Times which included the claim that many who practice Islam are ‘criminals’. Shadad has expressed support for Viktor Orbán’s proposed ban on Islam in Hungary. In other media, she said that the Qur’an is a book that calls for ‘hatred and violence’ and that the concept of Jihad is one of force and submission. She appeared on the cover of the Polish weekly magazine Wprost in 2016. She used this interview to call for a ban on Islam in Poland, to praise the Assad regime for its liberal protection of Christians, including her relatives, and to warn that if ‘Europe does not quickly wake up, it will become Islamized.

Piotr Ryback: The extremes of an ethno-nationalist fringe in Poland have gained notoriety in recent years, most notably in the actions of Piotr Rybak, of the Wielka Polska Niepodlegla movement. In November 2015, during an anti-Muslim protest in Wroclaw against Poland accepting Syrian refugees, Rybak burned an effigy of an Orthodox Jewish man. During the protest, most of which was captured on video and uploaded to YouTube, Rybak said, ‘we will not bring a single Muslim into Poland, Poland is for Poles.’ He then set fire to the effigy, which featured an EU flag. The National Radical Camp organised the protest and presented Rybak with the effigy to burn, but the courts rejected his claim that the effigy was of Hungarian-American Jewish philanthropist George Soros, finding him guilty of ‘public incitement to hatred on the grounds of religion and nationality to an unspecified group of Jews by burning an effigy’. The prison sentence given to Rybak fell to three months after an appeal.

Jacek Miedlar: The notoriety of the disgraced former priest Jacek Międlar grew after he was detained at Stansted Airport to prevent him from attending a Britain First rally in Telford, Shropshire in February 2017. Międlar, 28, is an important fixture in the extreme right-wing political scene in Poland, and in Wrocław in west Poland. Two years earlier, Międlar spoke at the far-right organised nationalist demonstration which marked the anniversary of Poland’s independence after the First World War. Organisers claimed that 50,000 attended but police put the actual figure at 25,000 people.

On the Polish Independence Day march on 11 November 2016, Międlar is alleged to have publicly called for hatred against Jews and Ukrainians. During the march, he is alleged to have said, ‘We must be strong in spirit, body, in our mentality and knowledge, because only we will be able to win with the left, with Jewry, and with communism, which is still in our homeland’. Months earlier, prosecutors dropped a hate crime investigation against Międlar, when during his sermon, he described Jews as a ‘cancer’. He is also alleged to have uploaded a photo of Poles performing a Nazi salute during a pogrom in the southern town of Myślenice in 1936 which resulted in non-lethal violence and property damage to Jewish-owned businesses.

Marian Kowalski: Marian Kowalski came to prominence in the English-language media in 2015 following a series of counter-protests following his speaking tour in Ireland during his failed presidential campaign in Poland. Hotels in Dublin and Cork cancelled speaking events for Kowalski, who represents the far-right National Movement (Ruch Narodowy). Kowalski’s views towards the building of new mosques in Poland reflects how anti-Muslim racism is often anti-Arab in focus. In a 2016 speech, he is reported to have told a crowd that Arab-funded mosques are ‘breeding grounds’ for terrorists. On Facebook, he shared a meme about how Poland violently dealt with the ‘invasion’ of Islam on 20 May 2017. On Twitter, Kowalski compared Islam to a ‘trojan horse’.




On 25 September 2016, he photographed a small rally in Trafalgar Square in London which called for the release of Janusz Waluś, a Polish white supremacist, who, in 1993, murdered the anti-apartheid hero and SACP leader Chris Hani. Waluś was a member of the leading neo-Nazi group in South Africa, the Afrikaner Resistance Movement, who hoped his actions would trigger a race war in the final days of apartheid. Kowalski has also gained a reputation for his provocative stunts which included the burning of a rainbow flag in July 2015 following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling to legalise same same-sex marriage.

Weronika Kania: The self-styled reporter Weronika Kania, who has contributed one hundred posts to the Polish-language anti-Islamisation website NDIE, was active in interviewing members of Britain First before her videos disappeared from YouTube. She spoke at a Britain First rally on 28 July 2017. On Facebook, she briefly updated her cover photo in praise of Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán in 2015. Recent Facebook posts have promoted Tommy Robinson’s controversial new book and linked to a YouTube concerning the paedophilia and Islam. She has also regularly interviewed Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of Britain First.

Piotr Szlachtowicz hosts the online radio show ‘The Nowy Polski Show’. It sponsored an event in Slough which listed Jacek Międlar as a keynote speaker. The event celebrated the underground Polish army which fought in anti-communist resistance movements. Międlar, of course, was denied entry into the UK. Another event promoted by his radio show featured the Polish MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke, who, in 2015, was suspended from the European Parliament for ten days after performing a Nazi salute. He has also claimed that Hitler ‘probably’ did not know about the Holocaust and the murder of millions of people was not his ‘goal’. Korwin-Mikke used racial the epithet ‘n—–‘ in 2014 and was suspended this year after making sexist remarks in parliament. An interview with Korwin-Mikke was uploaded by Mateusz Jaronski on 18 July 2017. The Twitter feed of the Nowy Polski Show, has, on multiple occasions, posted tweets favourable of the leadership of the far-right political party Britain First.




The full report can be downloaded HERE.



© Faith Matters
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Italian newspaper offices blockaded by far-right Forza Nuova party

Journalists at La Repubblica and L’Espresso saw their offices targeted by supporters of Italy’s Forza Nuova on Wednesday evening in what the far-right party called the start of a “war” against the left.

7/12/2017- Wearing white masks and hoodies, around ten FN supporters stood outside the newspapers’ headquarters in Rome, waving flags and setting off smoke flares. Some of the protesters threw flares at staff, according to La Repubblica. They carried a banner calling for a boycott of the two liberal papers and read out a series of accusations against them via megaphone. One person, a 34-year-old FN activist, was arrested on charges including demonstrating without authorization and coercion. On Facebook, Forza Nuova described the protest as a “declaration of war” against the left and liberal media in particular, which it accused of being run by “terrorists masquerading as journalists”. “Today was just the ‘first attack’ on those who spread the immigrationist [sic] gospel, who serve the interests of various NGOs, cooperatives and mafias,” the party posted. “From today begins the systematic and militant boycott of those who advocate ethnic substitution and invasion.”

Politicians, unions and press freedom groups condemned the stunt, which came a week after neo-Nazis interrupted a meeting of a volunteer group that helps migrants in northern Italy to denounce, like Forza Nuova, a so-called “invasion” of Italy. “An extremism has reared its head that is contrary to our constitutional values and our freedom,” warned Justice Minister Andrea Orlando, “and I believe that the Italian state and society must affirm the values on which our constitution is based.” Interior Minister Marco Minniti, speaking at La Repubblica’s office later on Wednesday, also cautioned against underestimating the threat from far-right extremists, “because the history of Europe and Italy is full of underestimations”. Matteo Renzi, the centre-left Democratic Party’s candidate for prime minister in Italy’s general election next year, tweeted that “they don’t scare us”.

On the right, the Forza Italia and Fratelli d’Italia parties defended the freedom of the press, while accusing La Repubblica of leftwing bias. They were echoed by the leader of the far-right Northern League, Matteo Salvini, who said he preferred to counter La Repubblica “with ideas and proposals, not with smoke and threats”. La Repubblica and L’Espresso, which share a publisher, said in a statement that they could not be intimated and would continue to report on Forza Nuova and all political parties. The leader of Forza Nuova, meanwhile, said that he meant “political war” and not “war full stop”. In an open letter addressed to the interior minister, Roberto Fiore claimed that his supporters were themselves under threat from “anarchists” stirred up by the liberal press.

His group has announced plans to rally in Como on Saturday, despite being denied permission by the northern city’s police. The group insisted it would meet anyway to counter an anti-fascism demonstration by Democratic Party activists planned for the same day. The party called the protest in response to the incident at the volunteers’ meeting last week, which took place in Como. Police have identified several of the men who interrupted the meeting and are considering charging them with coercion. Officers raided the homes of several members of the group on Thursday morning. The government recently highlighted “the rising phenomenon of threats from neo-Nazi and neo-fascist groups” against journalists in Italy, nearly 200 of whom are currently under police protection.
© The Local - Italy.

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Italy: Nearly 200 journalists are under police protection

Nearly 200 journalists receive some kind of police protection in Italy, the government said on Wednesday, citing an "emerging phenomenon" of rightwing threats against news organizations.

6/12/2017- In a statement, Rome's interior ministry said there were at least 19 protection plans for journalists as well as 167 "vigilance measures", such as regular police rounds conducted in neighbourhoods where journalists live. The figures were published to mark the inauguration of a coordination centre aimed at tackling intimidation against journalists in a country where authorities are still battling the influence of organized criminal groups. The statement said 90 cases of intimidation against the media had been reported so far in 2017, down from 114 in the same period last year. Nevertheless, it warned that it would be paying "special attention to the rising phenomenon of threats from neo-Nazi and neo-fascist groups as well as organized crime cells against journalists who through their work shine a light on wrongdoing". A journalist was attacked last month by an alleged mafioso after asking questions about his links to a fascist organization near Rome.
© AFP.

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Muslim Roma Win Discrimination Case Against Montenegro

6/12/2017- A Romani man and his family who were harassed by neighbours for being both Roma and Muslim, have won their case before the European Court of Human Rights. The family had exhausted inadequate domestic courts which were not delivering justice. So instead they took their case against the authorities who were not properly investigating the ethnic and religious attacks against them. The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) intervened in the case on the important issue of intersectional discrimination: the applicant was a Romani Muslim and his neighbours' threats and slurs focused on both identities. Interveners are separate parties to the case who make factual and legal submissions to the Court to help the Court make the right decision with the right reasons.

The family had been subjected to racial and religious slurs, death threats, graffiti painted on their door, attacks on their car, and gunfire aimed at their apartment before they turned to the law. The Court focused on two of the most threatening incidents. Carefully examining the conduct of the police, the Court found it wanting. In one of the incidents, bullets had been fired - those accused of firing them denied they did it, but admitted they heard gunfire and saw the shells. The Court criticised the police for not collecting the shells and seeing if those who allegedly fired them had a gun. Overall, the Court found that "the applicant was not provided with the required protection of his right to psychological integrity". The Court agreed that the violation was compounded by the fact that the applicant was Roma as well as Muslim.

In its written submission to the Court as a third party, the ERRC pointed out the existence of endemic racism against Roma in Montenegrin society. The ERRC also pointed out the evidence of institutional racism within Montenegrin police, who usually treated serious hate crimes as misdemeanours and seldom won convictions. The ERRC's President, Dorde Jovanovic, said "Roma are not a single, homogeneous category. We are women, men, children, Muslims, Christians, lesbians, gay men, straight people, some of us have disabilities. Antigypsyism interacts with misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia, and other ideologies of hate in complicated ways. This case is just one example. I congratulate the brave man and his family who brought this case. I hope other intersectional forms of discrimination will reach the Court and that we will be able to help the Court deliver powerful judgments that show and condemn the failure of police and others to do their jobs and protect our human rights".
© European Roma Rights Center

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EU to sue Poland, Hungary and Czechs for refusing refugee quotas

The European Commission is to sue Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic at the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for refusing to take in asylum seekers.

7/12/2017- The commission, the EU's executive body, accused the three countries of "non-compliance with their legal obligations on relocation". The Luxembourg-based ECJ could impose heavy fines. A relocation plan was launched by the EU in 2015 in response to a large influx of migrants and refugees. The move was an attempt to relieve pressure on Greece and Italy where the vast majority of migrants were arriving. However, the Czech Republic has accepted only 12 of the 2,000 asylum-seekers it had been designated, while Hungary and Poland have received none. The commission launched infringement procedures against the three states in June and warned them last month that further action was likely. "The replies received were again found not satisfactory and three countries have given no indication that they will contribute to the implementation of the relocation decision," a statement said. "This is why, the commission has decided to move to the next stage of the infringement procedure and refer the three member states to the court of justice of the EU."

Following Thursday's announcement, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis told the BBC his country would continue to oppose the relocation scheme. He said the quota system had fuelled anti-migrant sentiment and played into the hands of the far right. Poland's Deputy Foreign Minister Konrad Szymanski also said his government was "ready to defend its position in the court". In 2015 EU states agreed to relocate 160,000 asylum-seekers between them based on the size and wealth of each country, however, Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary voted against accepting mandatory quotas. Separately, the commission is also taking Hungary to the ECJ over its laws on higher education and NGOs. Hungary's right-wing government is looking to pass a higher education law that could close the Central European University, founded by financier and philanthropist George Soros. Mr Soros has a strained relationship with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

The commission said Hungary's education law "disproportionally restricts EU and non-EU universities in their operations and needs to be brought back in line with EU law". Hungary also caused controversy in June when it passed legislation forcing non-governmental organisations to declare themselves "foreign-funded". The commission said the laws "indirectly discriminate and disproportionately restrict donations from abroad to civil society organisations".
© BBC News.

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EU fight against discrimination and hate towards minorities still fails to deliver

6/12/2017- Persisting widespread discrimination, intolerance and hatred across the EU threatens to marginalise and alienate many minority group members who otherwise feel largely attached to the country they live in and trust its institutions. These findings emerge from a major repeat survey by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA). “Almost a decade ago we warned about the presence of large-scale ethnic discrimination and hatred. Today, these new results show that our laws and policies are inadequately protecting the people they are meant to serve,” says FRA Director Michael O’Flaherty. “With every act of discrimination and hate, we erode social cohesion and create inequalities that blight generations fuelling the alienation that may ultimately have devastating consequences.”

The Second European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey (EU-MIDIS II): main results report points to the need for specific and stronger measures to provide legal protection against discrimination coupled with effective sanctions. In addition, since 88% of ethnic discrimination, 90% of hate-motivated harassment and 72% of hate-motivated violence were not reported, much stronger outreach is needed to encourage victims to come report incidents, while law enforcement and equality bodies need the right tools to deal with these reports effectively.

Some of the other key findings include:
# 38% of respondents were discriminated against over the last five years with North Africans (45%), Roma (41%) and Sub-Saharan Africans (39%) particularly affected. Discrimination was greatest when it came to looking for work (29%).
# 31% of second-generation immigrant respondents experienced hate-motivated harassment in the last year. 50% of these victims were harassed at least six times in that year;
# Fewer minority members (61%) completed at least upper secondary education compared to the general population (74%). This reduces their employment chances.

The results also indicate a higher level of trust in public institutions than the general population with a majority feeling strongly attached to the country they live in. They are also largely open towards other ethnic groups. However, the impact of discrimination, harassment or violence is also clearly shown. Those who have been victims trust public institutions less and feel less attached to the country they live in. This is the second minorities and migrants survey carried out by the Fundamental Rights Agency. The survey asked about experiences of discrimination, harassment, police stops, and rights awareness, as well as markers of integration, such as the sense of belonging and trust in public institutions, and openness towards other groups.

Results:
Main results report
Interactive national data - survey results data explorer
© EU Fundamental Rights Agency

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Commentary: Blame Russia. But not too much.

“Missed a train? Lost a vote? Blame us!” reads one of the many posters recently posted on London’s underground transport system for RT, the Russian-based satellite broadcaster formerly known as Russia Today.
By Peter Apps


6/12/2017- The ads are yet another sign of just how overtly Moscow and its outlets have been reveling in their newfound reputation for driving events in Western politics. But it also points to a growing and increasingly difficult dynamic. As the United States, Britain and other European nations obsess ever more deeply about potential Russian interference within their borders, they ironically risk playing further into the Kremlin’s hands. President Donald Trump might remain unconvinced, but outside the White House there remains little doubt that President Vladimir Putin’s government has deliberately attempted to drive political events in Europe and the United States. U.S. intelligence agencies are united in their conclusion that Moscow interfered directly during the 2016 presidential election, primarily through hacking Democratic Party e-mails and disseminating their content to discredit Hillary Clinton.

In Europe the evidence is even more widespread. The European Union’s counter-disinformation campaign “EU Disinfo” says it has tracked more than 1,300 examples of pro-Kremlin interference this year. Moscow’s hand is seen as trying to drive support for the far right across the continent as well as a host of disparate causes like Brexit and independence for Catalonia. Particularly in its most recent campaigns, social media analysts believe Russia has been using an army of automated social media feeds, dubbed “bots,” to get its message across. But it also has more traditional media arms such as the website “Sputnik” and the RT network. Both Sputnik and RT have their own considerable web presence. Google last month announced it would “derank” both to give them less prominence on Google News and other platforms. Their stories, however, continue to be widely spread on other social media.

Even directly Russian government-linked social media outlets such as the Russian embassy Twitter feed in London have been openly “trolling” western governments and institutions, mocking them with jokes and sometimes ungrammatical rants. None of this behavior is entirely new – but it hasdoes appear to have increased substantially in the last two years. Ever since Russia annexed Crimea and began a wider war in eastern Ukraine in 2014, a growing number of Western analysts have believed that Putin is deliberately doing whatever he can generate discord and chaos within the West. Even more than the intensity of Russia’s activity, the level of attention now paid to it has increased. Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May recently devoted an entire speech to the topic, saying such actions “threaten the international order.”



In the United States, meanwhile, the focus is on the potentially paralyzing consequences of prosecutor Robert Mueller’s probe of potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow – particularly now that former U.S. national security adviser Michael Flynn has cut a deal to cooperate with the inquiry after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations with the Russian ambassador last December. There is clearly a difficult balance here. Many in the West, particularly former members of the Obama administration, feel they were caught out by the scale and intent of Russian activity, especially during the 2016 U.S. election. The risk, however, is that the level of attention now being devoted to Russian hacking, manipulation of social media and other questionable political activities furthers Putin’s goal of delegitimizing Western governments while boosting Russia’s reputation for being able to call the shots.

For all the evidence of Russian activity, we may never know to what extent Moscow truly affected the outcomes of any of the political contests in which it dabbled. We know that a pro-Kremlin institution bought ads on Facebook to provoke partisanship in the United States. We know that significant numbers of American voters went online to search for the hacked political emails Russia apparently gave to Wikileaks. But, as analyst Nate Silver notes, “there just isn’t a clean-cut story in the data.” On the surface, the volume of potential Russian interference on social media can seem massive. According to one estimate, Russian-related Twitter feeds were responsible for more than 1.5 million election-related tweets during the 2016 campaign. However, compared to the sheer volume of other election-related material published during the campaign, the Russian contribution is unlikely to have been the only factor.

The same is true when it comes to the rise of Europe’s far right. There’s no doubt that Russia has pushed some very divisive storylines, including around the alleged rape of a 13-year-old Russian-speaking girl in Germany by Arab migrants – an incident authorities say was later proven never to have happened. Those who monitor far-right chat rooms closely, however, say that Russia -related content remains only a very small proportion of the traffic. Most simply remains homegrown, according to a report by the UK’s Royal Institute of International Affairs. That doesn’t mean Russian involvement isn’t real. But by focusing on it to the exclusion of other variables, political establishments in Europe and the U.S. all too often give the impression of looking for scapegoats. That may paradoxically reduce the prospects of addressing reasons for the underlying political issues that led to dissatisfied Britons voting to leave the European Union and disaffected U.S. citizens voting for a polarizing candidate like Trump.



In the UK, those issues included frustration at the mainstream political establishment over multiple issues, immigration in particular. In the United States Trump’s rise too was partly because he was able to tap into the alienation and frustration of those who’d lost their jobs to workers in other countries. Russia clearly did what it could to exploit those feelings and trends, but it did not create them. Politicians need to find ways to address their concerns and reduce political polarization, not look for excuses about why voters turned against them. That is obviously easier said than done – every Western government has been desperately searching for policy solutions since the 2008 financial crisis, with often relatively little to show for it. But that doesn’t mean it’s not vital that policymakers continue to try. The Kremlin’s narrative is aimed not just at undermining individual governments and institutions, but the entire idea of Western democracy itself.

The West needs to be alert to Russian meddling, and giving people the information they need to detect it is important. But if the West is tempted to make Moscow take the blame for all its ills, it will end up furthering the Kremlin’s strategy more than Putin might ever have hoped.

Peter Apps is Reuters global affairs columnist, writing on international affairs, globalization, conflict and other issues. He is founder and executive director of the Project for Study of the 21st Century; PS21, a non-national, non-partisan, non-ideological think tank in London, New York and Washington. Before that, he spent 12 years as a reporter for Reuters covering defense, political risk and emerging markets. Since 2016, he has been a member of the British Army Reserve and the UK Labour Party.


© Reuters.
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Who Could Have Predicted Trump? Poland, and Hungary, and Slovakia

After the Cold War, right-wing populists surged to power by exploiting economic uncertainty.
By John Feffer


5/12/2017- He was a rich businessman, an outspoken outsider with a love of conspiracy theories. And he was a populist running for president. In 1990, when Donald Trump was still beyond the furthest outskirts of American politics, Stanislaw Tyminski was trying to become the new president of post-communist Poland. He shared something else with the future Trump: Nobody in the political elite took Tyminski seriously. That was a mistake. He was the standard-bearer for a virulent right-wing populism that would one day take power in Poland and control the politics of the region. He would be the first in a long line of underestimated buffoons of the post–Cold War era who started us on a devolutionary path leading to Donald Trump. Tyminski’s major error: His political backwardness was a little ahead of its time.

In true Trumpian fashion, Stan Tyminski couldn’t have been a more unlikely politician. As a successful businessman in Canada, he had made millions. He proved luckless, however, in Canadian politics. His Libertarian Party never got more than 1 percent of the vote. In 1990, he decided to return to his native Poland, then preparing for its first free presidential election since the 1920s. A relatively open parliamentary election in 1989, as the Warsaw Pact was beginning to unravel, had produced a solid victory for candidates backed by the independent trade union, Solidarity. Those former-dissidents-turned-politicians had been governing for a year, with Solidarity intellectual and pioneering newspaper editor Tadeusz Mazowiecki as prime minister but former Communist general Wojciech Jaruzelski holding the presidency. Now the general was finally stepping aside.

Running in addition to Mazowiecki was former trade union leader Lech Walesa, who had done more than any other Pole to take down the Communist government (and received a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts). Compared to such political giants, Tyminski was an unknown. All three made promises. Walesa announced that he would provide every Pole with $10,000 to invest in new capitalist enterprises. Mazowiecki swore he’d get the Rolling Stones to perform in Poland. Tyminski had the strangest pitch of all. He carried around a black briefcase inside which, he claimed, was secret information that would blow Polish politics to smithereens. Tyminski managed to get a toehold in national politics because, by November 1990, many Poles were already fed up with the status quo Solidarity had ushered in. They’d suffered the early consequences of the “shock therapy” economic reforms that would soon be introduced across much of Eastern Europe and, after 1991, Russia.

Although the Polish economy had finally stabilized, unemployment had, by the end of 1990, shot up from next to nothing to 6.5 percent and the country’s national income had fallen by more than 11 percent. Though some were doing well in the new business-friendly environment, the general standard of living had plummeted as part of Poland’s price for entering the global economy. The burden of that had fallen disproportionately on workers in sunset industries, small farmers, and pensioners. Mazowiecki, the face of this new political order, would, like Hillary Clinton many years later, go down to ignominious defeat, while Tyminski surprised everyone by making it into the second round of voting. Garnering support from areas hard hit by the dislocations of economic reform, he squared off against the plainspoken, splenetic Walesa. Tyminski did everything he could to paint his opponent as the consummate insider, a collaborator with the Communist secret police in his youth.

“I have a lot of material and I have it here…and some of it is very serious and of a personal nature,” Tyminski told Walesa in a debate on national television, holding that briefcase of his close at hand. Walesa retaliated by accusing him of being a front man for the former communist secret police. Tyminski was forced to admit that his staff did include ex–secret policemen, but he never actually opened that briefcase. Walesa was resoundingly swept into the presidency by an electoral margin of three to one. Stan Tyminski eventually took his wild conspiracy theories and populist pretensions back to Canada, a political has-been. And yet he was prescient in so many ways (including those charges against Walesa, who probably did collaborate briefly with the secret police). The liberal reforms that Eastern Europe implemented after the transformations of 1989 were supposed to be a one-way journey into a future as prosperous and boring as Scandinavia’s. Tyminski, on the other hand, had conjured up a very different, far grimmer future—unpredictable, angry, intolerant, paranoid—the very one that seems to have become our present.
© Tom Dispatch

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Neo-Nazis denied ferry trip from Sweden to Finland

A group of neo-Nazis who were due to travel from Sweden to Finland for the latter country’s centenary celebrations had their trip cut short when the ferry company they were going to travel with denied them passage.

7/12/2017- "We have made an assessment together with the authorities. Our cooperation with authorities means we are on top of the different groups who travel with us," Viking Line Communications Manager Johanna Boijer-Svahnström told news agency TT. In total, 24 members of the Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) were denied passage on the Viking Line boat between Stockholm and Turku. They were believed to be going there to take part in a demonstration called by the Finnish branch of the organization on the day of centenary celebrations in the country. A Finnish court recently banned the NRM following a request by police. Viking Line said it had security concerns. "Today Finland celebrates its 100th anniversary and we have many families with children on board. We therefore wanted it to be safe and calm."

Jonathan Leman from anti-racism foundation Expo noted that there are reasons to have security concerns when the NRM is involved. "NRM say that it is forbidden for members out carry out unprovoked attacks on others. But we have seen how they use situations where someone confronts them to attack and assault the person.” "Those who travel to protests are also largely part of the organization’s core group, where many have been convicted of violent crime in the past.” Being present in Finland was particularly important for the NRM because of the recent ban against them, he noted. A number of NRM demonstrations have taken place in Sweden this year, including a large September march in Gothenburg which required a heavy police presence and ended with arrests. The neo-Nazi group was founded in 1997 and promotes and openly racist and anti-Semitic doctrine.
© The Local - Sweden.

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Finland: Thousands march in Helsinki in far-right, anti-facist demonstrations

6/12/2017- Supporters of the far right in Finland and anti-facists staged rival marches in the capital on Wednesday as the country celebrated 100 years of independence. Police in riot gear reinforced by security personnel from around the country made 10 arrests due to scattered fights and misbehavior. Around 2,000 people joined the anti-facist march while demonstrations by two far right groups also gathered up to 2,000 people, the police said. Anti-immigrant sentiment has been on the rise in the Nordic EU member country of 5.5 million. About 32,500 migrants and refugees arrived during Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015. The number came down to 5,600 last year. “No nazis in Helsinki!” shouted anti-fascist demonstrators. Far-right marchers held a slogan saying “Towards freedom” and many carried torches. Last week, a court banned a neo-Nazi group called Nordic Resistance Movement but it took part in a march as the decision is yet to be implemented. Finland was part of the Russian Empire and won independence during the 1917 Russian revolution, then nearly lost it fighting the Soviet Union in World War Two.
© Reuters.

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Finnish kids party cancelled over far-right march

A children's party to mark 100 years of Finland's independence has been moved because it clashes with a march by an ultra-nationalist group.

5/12/2017- The manager of the Tukkutori wholesale market in Helsinki's Toolo area, Elina Siltanen, told the YLE public broadcaster that police warned of a "security risk" if the party went ahead, given the proximity of the far-right 612 movement's torch lit procession. The nationalist group had arranged their march in advance, as they have done in several previous years, so the children's party - which was to feature rabbits and alpacas - has to make way, Police Chief Inspector Seppo Kujala confirmed. Ms Siltanen put the unfortunate double-booking down to "poor communication" with the police.

Organiser denies deliberate clash
The head of the Toolo Children group, Aleksi Pahkala, is also a well-known anti-racism campaigner, but he denied suggestions that he had deliberately scheduled the event as a protest against the 612 march. His colleague Jaakko Hilppo said they chose the Tukkutori market as the area is "relatively well lit in the evening, and so it's easy to organise an event there that people will come to". He said he had no problem with the 612 procession, and told YLE "I'm glad I can live in a country where people have the right to express their opinions". The Toolo Children group intends to complain to Helsinki council, saying it is "not right for a children's event to be cancelled for security reasons. The city should be safe for everyone," Yle reports. But the story has a happy ending for the children, as the manager of the HJK Helsinki football club has offered them the use of the team's nearby stadium. Aki Riihilahti tweeted that the club will "always have room for children".
© BBC News.

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Support for anti-immigration Sweden Democrats tumbles: poll

5/12/2017- Support for the far-right, anti-immigration Sweden Democrats party has fallen to its lowest level since surging during the migration crisis of 2015, a government poll showed on Tuesday. The Sweden Democrats’ approval rating shot to nearly 20 percent in November 2015 after hundreds of thousands of people arrived in Sweden to seek asylum. But a stricter immigration policy has led to a big reduction in numbers, and the issue has slipped from the top of the political agenda. Support for the Sweden Democrats stood at 14.8 percent in November, compared to 18.4 percent in June, Sweden’s Statistics Office found in its twice yearly poll for which it interviewed 9,000 people between Oct. 27 and Nov. 28. The government, comprised of the Social Democrats and Greens, had a 36.4 percent approval rating, compared with 35.6 percent in the June poll.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven has wooed voters with a pledge to boost spending by almost 44 billion crowns ($5.23 billion) in the budget for 2018 with much of the money going on welfare, education and the police. “Immigration is no longer dominating the political debate in Sweden,” Jonas Hinnfors, political scientist at Gothenburg University said. Together with the Left Party, which supports the coalition in parliament, the government has 43.4 percent support, up from 41.9 percent in June. At its current level of support, the Sweden Democrats would still have enough clout to block either the centre-left or centre-right blocs from forming a government after the next election in September 2018, should they fail to reach a majority. The Sweden Democrats, shunned by all the major parties due to their far-right roots, have said they would help vote down either a centre-left or centre-right coalition in 2018, making it unclear how either bloc will be able to form a government.
© Reuters.

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Ireland: Just 10% of transphobic hate crime reported to Garda, study finds

Many victims feel they will not be taken seriously, according to Stad report

5/12/2017- Only one in 10 transgender victims of hate crime report the incident to the Garda, according to a new study. The study details 62 anti-transgender hate crimes [57 in the Republic and five in Northern Ireland] which were reported to Stop Transphobia and Discrimination (Stad) between 2014 and 2016. It shows victims of transphobic hate crime in the Republic are face less likely to make an official report compared with those in Northern Ireland. The offences included rape, aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault, assault causing harm, threats to kill, and public order offences. The Stad Report 2014-2016 was conducted on behalf of the Transgender Equality Network Ireland (Teni) by the University of Limerick’s Hate and Hostility Research Group.

“Despite recent advances in transgender rights, including the ground-breaking Gender Recognition Act 2015, many members of our community continue to encounter levels of prejudice and discrimination in their daily lives that undoubtedly constitute hate crime,” chair of Teni Sara Phillips said. “It is also worrying that among those identified in the report only one in 10 chose to report such incidents to gardaí.” Ireland does not have any laws specifically dealing with hate crimes such as assault or harassment. Hate speech can be prosecuted under the Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 but there have only been five such prosecutions in the last 28 years.

Teni chief executive Stephen O’Hare said: “It is widely accepted that Ireland lacks an adequate legal framework to combat this sort of crime. Despite recent observations from respected national and international human rights monitoring bodies on the need to introduce measures which are effective, proportionate and dissuasive, progress has been slow. This leaves many trans and gender-variant victims of transphobic hate crime with no obvious legal remedy.” Of the 57 anti-transgender crimes in the Republic of Ireland logged to Stad, only six were reported to the Garda. In contrast, three-quarters of those logging hate crimes in Northern Ireland reported them to the PSNI. The most common reasons given by victims for not reporting incidents to gardaí were the belief they would not be taken seriously or that gardaí would not or could not do anything.

The report also detailed 34 incidents of non-criminal transphobia. These included 14 instances of discrimination in accessing services, two instances of discrimination in employment and two instances of online abuse. “As I closed the door, I heard one of the men shout the word “F****t!” . . . a few moments later, the sound of an attempted kicking-in of the locked door of the cubicle I was occupying, which was quickly followed by the sound of two laughing Neanderthals as they fled the scene,” one person reported. Another person reported an attack by two people with knives: “The others were cheering them on . . . They made swipes at me with the knives but missed me on purpose . . . I ran home and they followed me half way and stopped when they saw me put a key in the door”.
© The Irish Times..

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UK: Police Chiefs Debate Possibility Of Making Misogyny A Hate Crime

It could mean tougher sentences for those who target women.

6/12/2017- Senior police chiefs are set to debate the possibility of making misogyny a hate crime as part of a drive to clamp down on sexual harassment. Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton, national policing lead on hate crime, told a Commons select committee on Wednesday a review of “strands” of offences categorised as hate could see action taken against those who target women. He said the discussion, being led by former Nottinghamshire Police Chief Constable Sue Fish, is ongoing but could lead to tougher sentences for offenders should the government and police forces decide to review current laws. “There is an option there to consider reviewing the five national reported strands of hate crime,” he said. “Because they all have statutory provision around enhanced sentencing, at the minute what we would describe as a misogyny-type offence does not exist. “Where we are with that now is Sue [Fish] is presenting evidence to us on the consideration of misogyny as sixth strand of hate crime, or if not, what are we going to do about it. “Another six chief constables are also reporting on it at the minute and others are waiting to see what we come back with.”

ACC Hamilton said the Law Commission was tasked with reviewing the effectiveness of the law on hate crime, and whether its scope should be expanded, in May 2014. The commission recommended the five current strands of hate crime - which cover disability, gender identity, race, ethnicity and nationality - be reviewed, but no action has yet been taken by the government. The women and equalities committee invited him to give evidence as part of an ongoing probe into sexual harassment and sexist culture, and the legal frameworks for tackling it. Committee chair and Conservative MP Maria Miller said: “There has been significant and growing concern over the past few years about routine sexism and sexual harassment that women and girls experience in their daily lives. “Recent allegations that have emerged across different sectors have amplified this. “Last year, the committee published a report which uncovered a disturbing level of sexual harassment and sexual violence against girls in schools. We are now interested in hearing about women’s experiences in other environments.”

She said the session wanted to hear from experts from different sectors about women’s experiences of sexism and sexual harassment in universities, workplaces, public spaces and online. “Once we have a better picture of the problem, we will consider further work on this in the new year,” Miller added.
© The Huffington Post - UK

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Trump "is not welcome here": Edinburgh protest planned to derail Trump's UK visit

A protest spurred by President Donald Trump’s retweeting and apparent endorsement of the far-right Britain First organisation will be held by anti-fascist and anti-racist campaigners in Edinburgh on Thursday, 7 December.

6/12/2017- Late month, Trump shared a series of Islamophobic tweets from Britain First, including a video originally shared by the group’s deputy leader Jayda Fransen, claiming to show “Muslim migrants beating up a Dutch boy on crutches.” Subsequent reposts by Trump were captioned “Muslim destroys statue of Virgin Mary” and “Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death”. The Independent newspaper reported that the content of the videos or their origin could not be independently verified, but also pointed to “local reports” indicating that the first video was taken during riots surrounding the coup against former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in 2013, and that the victim was likely a Muslim himself. Similarly, local media reported that the attacker in the second video posted was neither Muslim nor a migrant, and was subsequently arrested over the incident.

The planned protests in Edinburgh have been backed by Stand up to Racism, Unite Against Fascism, Stop the War, Edinburgh RISE, Scotland Against Criminalising Communities. Ahead of the protests, Sabby Dhalu, Stand Up To Racism co-convener said: “Trump’s latest tweets are a further chilling sign of his willingness to associate with a racist, Islamophobic and violent far-right intent on spreading hatred and division. “When Islamophobia and racism is normalised, racist and Islamophobic attacks increase. We’ve already seen a shocking rise in hate crime – Trump’s tweets and potential visit can only make things worse. “All those who stand against racism must oppose his entry into Britain and demand Theresa May does not grant him a state visit.”

Maz Saleem, Stand Up To Trump spokesperson said: “Jayda Fransen is a convicted Islamophobe and racist, who is the spokesperson for Britain First. “When far-right terrorist Thomas Mair murdered British MP Jo Cox, he shouted ‘Britain First’. For Trump, to retweet several Islamophobia racist tweets from her account speaks volumes about why we need to stand up to the President of racism, Islamophobia and bigotry named Trump. He is not welcome here.” Following Trump’s apparent endorsement of Britain First’s posts and views, Prime Minister Theresa May said it was “the wrong thing to do” for the President to retweet the messages and videos of the organisation. Trump responded in a further Twitter post, telling May: “Don’t focus on me, focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom. We are doing just fine.”

Despite the ensuing diplomatic incident, Trump is reportedly due to visit the UK in February, according to the Sunday Times. The Daily Mirror has reported that, according to sources, it will not be a full state visit and Trump will not be meeting with the Queen. Should Trump’s visit to the UK go ahead, further protests are planned. A spokesperson for the Stop Trump campaign told the Evening Standard: “The British government know that the protests against a Trump visit could be the biggest we’ve ever seen in the country. Upwards of a million people could take to the streets.” The Edinburgh protest will assemble at Waterloo Place at 5.30pmfor speeches before delivering a letter to the United States consulate.
© Common Space

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UK: Neo-Nazis target minorities in Dundee and Cambridge

6/12/2017- Members of the neo-Nazi group The System Resistance Network (SRN) have distributed anti-refugee, homophobic, and antisemitic flyers in Dundee and Cambridge. The Courier reported that locals had torn down the anti-refugee flyers in the Marketgait area of Dundee on Tuesday morning. Less than a mile away, the group targeted an LGBT support service with flyers which praised Aids as a ‘cure’ for ‘faggotry’. Tell MAMA reported back in September that the group had distributed disturbing homophobic flyers in the Southampton area. The social media activity of the group suggests some coordination of its activists in England and Wales. Despite their small size, the group has increased its activity both online and offline, expanding its geographic reach, and ability to spread race hate and bigotry. An antisemitic appeared on a sign for the Christ’s Pieces park in central Cambridge. The text featured the racial epithet ‘k*ke’.

Flyers distributed near Cambridge University juxtaposed a swastika over legal scales with the text ‘Justice Awaits You’. The same flyer appeared in Wales on November 30, per their social media. A propaganda video from the group suggests that its members have targeted parts of Wales before. YouTube has now placed a region block on their account but remains accessible. We warned that the proscribed neo-Nazi terror group National Action could be operating under the System Resistance Network banner, like with the proscribed NS131 and Scottish Dawn groups. The SRN continues to use the encrypted Tutanota email service. Its propaganda mirrors the above groups. If the SRN is not affiliated with National Action but inspired by it, it demonstrates their enduring influence on neo-Nazi groups domestically, which is of great concern, so is their uptake in activity, having rebranded from Vanguard Britannia in June 2017.

David Anderson QC, the former terrorism watchdog’s investigation into internal reviews by the security services and police following the wave of terror attacks in Britain this year, called for an increased role for MI5 and the JTAC ‘in so-called domestic extremism work, including in particular XRW [Extreme Right-Wing] terrorism’. Anderson added this aim is to ‘ensure the equivalence of processes in analysing and dealing with all kinds of terrorism, irrespective of the ideology that inspires them’. The report notes that the known level of attack-planning for far-right terrorism was much lower, and remains impossible to quantify the number of thwarted far-right terror attacks since October 2013. This uncertainty relates, in part, to the activity of lone wolf actors, and whether they ‘crossed’ the threshold from hate crime to terrorism. Anderson QC gave two examples of recent attack-planning which included the purchase of firearms and the construction of viable explosives, adding that the police assessment indicated the individuals had the resources and knowledge to carry out the attacks.
© Tell Mama

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British government was just told to get tougher on rising threat of far-right terror

5/12/2017- Britain's security officials have been urged to get tougher on the rising threat of extreme right-wing terrorism — and to treat it in the same way as they would Islamist terror threats. While the known number of terrorist plots from far-right extremists are lower than from Islamist radicalists, security authorities should implement an "equivalence of processes in analysing and dealing with all kinds of terrorism, irrespective of the ideology that inspires them," according to an independent report. The recommendations were made by David Anderson QC, who on Tuesday published a review of the UK response to the Westminster, Manchester, London Bridge, and Finsbury Park attacks this year. The 61-page report noted that in the 12 months leading up to October 2017, there were "instances of attack-planning" from far-right extremists, including "the construction of viable explosive devices and the acquisition of firearms."

It was hard, however, to quantify the number of thwarted attacks from far-right extremists "in part because of uncertainty as to whether a lone actor was actually planning an attack and, if so, whether it would have crossed the threshold from hate crime to terrorism," Anderson noted. He said the far-right threat was "exemplified" by the murder of Jo Cox in June 2016, when the Labour MP was shot and stabbed to death by Thomas Mair. Prosecutors said his crimes were "nothing less than acts of terrorism."  MI5 should have "an increased role... in so-called domestic extremism work, including in particular XRW [extreme right-wing] terrorism," Anderson said. "The aim is to ensure the equivalence of processes in analysing and dealing with all kinds of terrorism, irrespective of the ideology that inspires them."
© The Business Insider

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UK: Teenager 'Strangled And Forced To Apologise For Being Gay' In Attack On Tube Line

Police have released CCTV images of two people they wish to speak to

4/12/2017- A teenager was strangled and forced to apologise for being gay during a homophobic hate crime assault in London, police have said. British Transport Police (BTP) have released images of two people they would like to speak to in connection with the incident, which happened on October 21, at about 11.10pm. One of the victim’s friends, a 25-year-old woman, was also punched and pushed to the ground during the assault, police said. British Transport Police are appealing for information following a 'hate crime assault' on the Tube. Police said the 19-year-old victim was travelling on a westbound Jubilee line train between West Ham and North Greenwich with his friends when the assault took place. He and his friends were dressed in fancy dress for an event they were going to when two men boarded the train at West Ham and became verbally abusive. Police said the offenders used homophobic language and became aggressive when challenged.

BTP said in a statement: “The first offender then pulled the victim from his seat into a headlock, strangling him. “The second offender took the victim’s phone and verbally abused him again, also making threats to stab him. “They demanded the victim apologise for being gay which eventually the victim did as he was struggling to breathe. “They then let him go and handed back his phone and a fight ensued between the victim’s friends and the offenders.” The woman who was punched sustained bruising, police said. Meanwhile, the original victim did not sustain any injuries and the victims left the train at North Greenwich. Police added in a statement: “Hate crime will not be tolerated by British Transport Police. “We believe that everyone has the right to travel safety. “We won’t tolerate behaviour where someone is targeted because they are perceived to be different, or made to feel uncomfortable on their journey.”

Police are appealing for information and would like to speak to those shown in the images as they may have information which could help the investigation. Anyone who recognises those pictured is asked to contact BTP on 0800 40 50 40 or text 61016, quoting reference number 273 of 1/12.
© The Huffington Post - UK

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Inside Britain First: ex-member tells of petty rivalries, racism and violent anti-Muslim plots

The deputy leader’s former boyfriend speaks of intimidation and why he left

3/12/2017- Britain First may have been thrust into the epicentre of global politics by Donald Trump, but those familiar with the inner workings of the far-right political group portray a factionalised rabble, riven by jealously and petty infighting. People who have mixed with the group’s senior echelons also describe mammoth drinking sessions, threats of violence and boasts of inciting conflict with Britain’s Muslim community. Speaking publicly for the first time, Graham Morris, a former boyfriend of Britain First’s deputy leader, Jayda Fransen – whose anti-Muslim videos were retweeted by Trump last week – said he had left the group because it “was out of control” and some members advocated violence. Morris revealed tensions between the group’s leader, Paul Golding, 35, whom he described as a “narcissist” and who was extremely jealous of his relationship with Fransen, 31.

Morris, 54, who lives near Hinckley, Leicestershire, and left Britain First several months ago, also revealed how members would plot large-scale anti-Muslim attacks, describing one such plan hatched after a Britain First demonstration in Birmingham in June. "They were talking about damaging mosques up and down the country, targeting them at the same time. I’ve got a young child, I didn’t want to be part of any mosque attacks, that sort of thing,” he said. He also described how the group’s security guards would be told to “kick people’s doors in”, and that despite the group claiming officially to reject “racial hatred in all forms” some members were openly racist. Experts who have followed the rise of Britain First insist that President Trump’s extraordinary intervention will ultimately fail to have an electoral impact. Despite having 1.9m Facebook likes and 27,000 Twitter followers, the group is believed to have attracted fewer than 1,000 members. 

Matthew Collins, of the anti-fascist group Hope Not Hate, said: “It has internal difficulties and ongoing legal cases that have very little to do with politics and more to do with the culture of the party, which is one of jealousy, drinking and intimidation. There’ll be no political gain and they won’t be standing in more elections, they’ll just intimidate more people and beg for more money.” Collins said that, despite last week’s massive publicity, the party was unlikely to avert what he called a gradual decline. “The nature of Britain First is that during the last six to 12 months it has become more and more extreme, returning to its British National party roots and the relationship between its senior members is unlikely to be repaired.”

Morris, who said he became involved with Britain First earlier this year because of his concerns over sharia law, said he quickly became disillusioned with its racist and violent tendencies. On Friday Fransen threatened New York Times reporters who sought to interview her with “home visits of their own”. Morris’s misgivings first began during the Britain First protest in Birmingham in June when Fransen invited his 10-year-old son on to the stage. “She was asking me to bring my son to the demonstration and then she took him on stage, then there was a picture of my son on stage, used in a publicity stunt, like some sort of poster boy. I wasn’t very happy with that and we started falling out,” added Morris, who said that he had contacted the police regarding harassment since he had left the group.
© The Guardian*

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Netherlands: Police union criticised for putting ‘price tag on civil rights’

4/12/2017- Police union ACP has come under fire for revealing at the weekend that the cost of supervising a demonstration against Zwarte Piet in the Frisian town of Dokkum ran into the hundreds of euros. ACP chairman Gerrit van de Kamp estimated the cost of the operation at between €350,000 and €500,000. ‘Those are hours that we can’t spend on other business,’ he told RTL Nieuws. Around 200 people took part in Saturday’s demonstration, holding banners and chanting ‘No more blackface’ and ‘No more Zwarte Piet!’ Police had expected around 300 demonstrators as well as several dozen counter-protesters, but the latter stayed away. Protest leader Jerry Afriyie told the Volkskrant that dozens of protesters had called off because of the escalating tension around the Zware Piet issue. ‘They didn’t dare to come any more,’ he said.

Blockade
Saturday’s demonstration was organised after protesters were unable to reach the town on the day of the official welcoming parade for Sinterklaas two weeks ago when nationalist counter-demonstrators, including members of the far-right Pegida group, blockaded the A7 motorway. The local mayor had given permission for the protest to take place just before the parade, but reversed the decision at the last minute on ‘safety grounds’. A criminal investigation has been launched into the blockade, which may lead to prosecutions for illegally stopping cars on the motorway and endangering road safety. Several minor accidents were reported in the queue that built up on the A7 on November 23. This time police sealed off the route to ensure the demonstrators could travel unhindered. Riot police were on standby in the town centre and police were given temporary powers to carry out random ID checks. Two people unconnected with the protest were detained for not producing ID. ‘It made me think of the first black children in the US who needed an army escort to travel to mixed-race schools,’ Afriyie said of the scale of the police operation.

Cost
The ACP’s intervention was criticised by politicians who said democratic rights should not be framed as a financial burden. D66 MP Monica den Boer said it was wrong to ‘put a price tag on the right to demonstrate.’ ‘First of all, everyone in this country has the right to demonstrate, that comes first,’ she said. ‘It’s also the case that everyone has the right to the protection they need.’ CDA MP Chris van Dam said: ‘It’s absurd that so many police had to turn out for a demonstration, but the costs cannot be allowed to come first. It’s a bad idea by the ACP.’ Van de Kamp said the ACP wanted to make people aware of the cost implications of policing the right to freedom of assembly. ‘It’s an important first step for us. Demonstrations often come on top of other duties, at the cost of other things we could be doing.’
© The Dutch News

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Russia: Worries about hooligans and racism remain as Moscow holds World Cup draw

3/12/2017- Immigrants are fearful of racism at Russia's World Cup despite promises that the government is taking the problem seriously. Moscow is also reportedly cracking down on violence like that between Russians and Brits at Euro 2016, with hooligans warned they will face “big problems” unless they stay away from the tournament. Alexei Smertin, the Russian football union's anti-discrimination czar and a former Chelsea player, said at a conference this week that Russia has installed stadium observers to catch racist behaviour, like bananas thrown at dark-skinned players. He added that World Cup spectators with rainbow symbols wouldn't run afoul of Russia's law against gay propaganda among minors as long as no one would “go into a school and speak”.

This comes after FIFA head Gianni Infantino's promise that it was making “200 per cent” sure discrimination didn't mar the matches. Some remain doubtful, however. Salifou Camara, who came to Russia from Guinea in 2012 and works with Africans here, said racism has been growing less violent. But he says minorities still “should worry” at the 2018 World Cup because the authorities can't always control the stands. “I know the government is ready to do everything so there won't be racism, but there are people who will be racist for sure,” he said. Robert Ustian has received threats since he founded CSKA Fans Against Racism in 2014. Neo-Nazis have had a significant presence in fan groups here, he explained. “I don't want to say I'm a hero, but some day you may be writing that the founder of a CSKA fan group has been beaten or killed,” he said.

During the Fifa Confederations Cup this summer fans in blackface came to a match in St Petersburg and marched with bananas in Sochi. In September, Uefa sanctioned Spartak Moscow supporters for racially abusing Liverpool's Nigerian-born winger Bobby Adekanye. The FARE network found 89 incidents of discrimination related to Russia's 2016-17 football season. These were mostly neo-Nazi signs, but also included an assault on a North Korean man in Tula and an attack on a man from the Caucasus, an area of ethnic minorities, in the World Cup host city of Samara. In July, the Russian Football Union banned French player Yohan Mollo, then a winger for Zenit St Petersburg, from two matches for flicking off fans who reportedly chanted “Mollo is a faggot”.

But in a positive step, the Russian Football Union this month sanctioned Spartak Moscow fans after racist chants against a team from the Caucasus. Police have been cracking down as well, and authorities in the World Cup host city of Saransk said in November felony crimes had fallen 20% over the past 10 months. On Wednesday, Vladimir Chernikov, head of the Moscow region security department, said 400 “aggressive” fans have already been blacklisted from World Cup. Yury Reizer, a lawyer and Spartak Moscow fan, said hooligans he knows have been warned by police to leave town during the World Cup. “A lot of hooligans are Russian patriots,” Mr Reizer said, “and they don't want shame for Russia.” “What happened in Marseilles could happen in Marseilles but not in Russia,” Mr Ustian said.
© The Telegraph

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Are media giving neo-Nazis the oxygen of publicity or exposing ugly truth?

A recent New York Times profile of a Holocaust denier was criticised as overly sympathetic but journalists face tough decisions when covering the far right
By Lois Beckett


3/12/2017- When Alfred Münzer, a 76-year-old Holocaust survivor, read a major newspaper profile of a young “Nazi sympathizer next door”, he was shaken. The New York Times profile, which focused on a 29-year-old Holocaust denier’s pop culture tastes and listed items in his wedding registry, has been criticized as painting a neo-Nazi in an overly sympathetic light. Many readers argued it should not have been published at all. Münzer, who volunteers at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, thought the profile lacked some crucial context. But he also believed it told an important story. “The fact that there are really ordinary people who have beliefs that are really so reminiscent of Nazi Germany is absolutely frightening,” said Münzer, whose two older sisters and father died in Nazi concentration camps. “This is not just a crazy fringe.”

Münzer has been increasingly disturbed by what he has seen in the US over the past two years: a presidential campaign driven by racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic rhetoric and policies; hundreds of neo-Nazis and white supremacists marching openly through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, in August; a president who had to be prompted to explicitly condemn those neo-Nazis, rather than casting blame for violent clashes on “many sides”. Then on Wednesday, as Americans debated the ethics of giving media attention to hate groups, Donald Trump tweeted three pieces of anti-Muslim propaganda from a fringe Islamophobic group, Britain First. “To me, it’s incredible that an American president would retweet hate messages like that,” Münzer said. “It’s just totally incredible.”

Trump’s tweets sparked international headlines about a racist group with a few hundred members which is best known for harassment campaigns. A rightwing terrorist shouted “Britain first” before killing MP Jo Cox last year. The party’s deputy, found guilty last year of religiously aggravated harassment, received just 56 votes in her last run for parliament. Britain First was recently deregistered by the UK election watchdog, after failing to update its paperwork. Like neo-Nazi groups in the US, Britain First has used stunts, harassment and digital provocation to attract attention and build its profile, despite having a tiny membership and no political power. Covering such groups, which try to weaponize even negative media coverage as a recruiting tool, has been a constant challenge for journalists. Critics have questioned whether the prominence and volume of such coverage has only served to make fringe groups more powerful.

In the US, neo-Nazi leaders have rejoiced at the coverage they have received, with three prominent far-right racists gushing on a podcast a year ago that the coverage had been “very good, all the things they’re doing are so good”. “The coverage only has one effect, which is the normalization of our ideas. And it doesn’t take a political scientist to figure that out. If it isn’t purposeful, then it is absurd incompetence,” said one neo-Nazi internet troll. “I think in a weird level the left, like, secretly wants us to rise,” said Richard Spencer, who was profiled in 2016 as America’s blazer-clad, “dapper white nationalist”. Such profiles of Spencer, who has degrees from elite American universities, sparked the first major wave of public outrage at news articles about white supremacists that portrayed them as bizarre and fascinating characters rather than dangerous threats.

Americans of color have been quick to raise concerns about this kind of coverage, said Whitney Phillips, a digital media scholar who studies trolling, conspiracy theories and hate groups. Some coverage of white supremacists is implicitly filtered through a white perspective, she said, providing white audiences with shocking stories of “wayward white folks” rather than focusing on the danger or anxiety faced by communities of color. Part of the problem with the New York Times profile of the “Nazi next door” was that “they didn’t talk to that guy’s black neighbors”, Phillips said. “They weren’t asking questions of the groups that these ideologies create a hostile environment for.” The crucial question when profiling a neo-Nazi is “who have they harmed”, she said.
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Heidi Beirich, who leads the intelligence project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups and individual extremists, said white supremacist groups must be covered by the media “because they are a threat to democracy, a threat in terms of domestic terrorism and hate crime”. Despite criticisms of the volume of media coverage of white supremacist groups, white supremacist violence is not covered well, Beirich said. It tends to treat white supremacist killers as individuals, rather than portraying their violence as inspired by a single ideology and the result of a process of radicalization, as coverage of Islamic State-linked terrorism tends to do. “It’s like they’re all one-offs,” Beirich said. “We are very reluctant to look at ourselves, our own culture, as a font for this violence. It is a lot easier to point the finger at something coming from Iraq or Syria.”

Some Americans on both left and right continue to ask why fringe hate groups are being covered by the media at all, arguing that their views are ludicrous. Beirich, like other experts who study racist extremists, contested such assumptions. “The US, people have to remember, was founded on white supremacy and slavery, and it didn’t dismantle white supremacy as its form of government until the mid-1960s,” she said. “Black people and people of color were legally discriminated against. Hate groups – their views, most of them, would have been considered totally normal in 1965.”

‘A reverberating effect’
Joan Donovan, a researcher at the Data and Society institute who studies how white supremacist groups manipulate the media, says articles about hate groups should be treated with the same caution as articles about suicide, where the wrong kind of coverage runs the risk of causing real harm. News coverage of extremist groups may have “a similar kind of reverberating effect”, Donovan said, adding that white supremacist activists run media-based movements and no matter how ostensibly negative news coverage might be, any mainstream attention provides validation and fodder for their activism. Donovan recommends that journalists use “strategic silence” when covering hate groups. “If there is no newsworthy event compelling you to cover this, it’s not a good idea to go searching for these stories,” she said. Local neo-Nazi rallies, like a recent one in Shelbyville, Tennessee, should primarily be covered locally and not as a major national story, she argued.

Phillips, who has interviewed 50 journalists for a project on the difficulties of covering conspiracy theorists and hate groups, studies the way media coverage can “amplify” dangerous lies and hoaxes, helping them spread and become entrenched. Media coverage of bigotry and falsehood is not a neutral force, she said. A news article about a harassment campaign, for instance, will prompt even more harassment of the original target, “and it will increase the likelihood that those tactics will be used in the future”.

The way news coverage can amplify harassment, rather than put an end to it, was clear earlier this year during a campaign of neo-Nazi abuse directed towards Jewish residents of Whitefish, Montana, a town where Richard Spencer’s family owns a vacation home. Whitefish residents said each wave of news coverage seemed to spark a new round of abuse. Neo-Nazi trolls used lurid claims – suggesting they bus in skinheads to hold an armed hate march in the middle of January – to prompt continued press attention and international coverage. But Phillips said that simply not covering harrassment may not be the right choice, either. “If you have a rise in far-right extremism, you can’t just turn away,” she said.

In an onstage interview on Thursday, the New York Times editor, Dean Baquet, defended the paper’s neo-Nazi profile, saying the degree of outrage it had inspired was “the most ridiculous overreaction to a story” and that the piece had been right to provide a portrait of modern extremism that was not driven by “guys who live in the hills of Alabama smoking pipes”.

‘Playing with fire’
Münzer, the Holocaust survivor, did not express particular interest, as the Times’ article’s author had done, in the “obscure” soul of one neo-Nazi and how he had gone astray. He thought the the article should have pushed more into questions of collective responsibility. “Where did these feelings come from?” he asked. “What did we do wrong? How does this represent a failing of the schools? Or the failing of the way we teach history? A failure really to communicate what happened or the dangers of Nazis and the danger of racism – and that they can lead to murder?” It was not news to him that citizens with otherwise normal-seeming lives could become Nazis. It was an ordinary man, and a secret member of the Dutch Nazi party, who turned in Münzer’s sisters, eight-year-old Eva and six-year-old Leah, to the authorities. The two girls were sent to Auschwitz. The man’s wife, who had tried to protect the girls, was also sent to prison.

Münzer said journalists should focus more on ordinary heroes willing to confront the rise of fascism. When Münzer grew up in hiding in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands, it was a Dutch Indonesian family who took him in and a Muslim nanny who served as the Jewish baby’s surrogate mother. There were people of five religions in the household that risked their own safety to protect him. The Muslim woman who cared for him slept with a knife on her pillow, ready to defend his life. “Hatred, whether it’s directed against Jews, against Muslims, against anyone who is perceived as the other, is dangerous, and can really be a prelude to murder,” he said. “I think this is really playing with fire. It’s stoking the fires of hatred.” At the same time, he said: “I’m seeing more people willing to stand up and speak up. People are beginning to really confront the hate. I see that among young people, and that’s very encouraging.”
© The Guardian*

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Germany Inches Closer to a New, Old Government

8/12/2017- Germany inched toward a new government on Friday, as leaders from the center-left Social Democrats, the previous partners of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc, agreed to sit down next week for exploratory talks on resuming the arrangement. Andrea Nahles, parliamentary whip for the Social Democrats, said that her party’s leadership would meet on Wednesday with its counterparts from Ms. Merkel’s conservatives to begin the process that a majority of Germans, according to recent opinion polls, hope will lead to a fourth chancellorship for Ms. Merkel. The two groups governed together from 2005 to 2009, and again from 2013 until this year.

The Social Democrats’ party conference, a three-day gathering that opened on Thursday, voted by hand on the prospect of beginning open-ended talks and approved it by a “large” majority, according to Niels Annen, a senior Social Democrat who counted the votes. No fixed percentage of the vote was given. “We don’t have to govern at any price, but we also can’t reject governing at any price,” Martin Schulz, the party’s leader, told delegates in a rousing speech on Thursday. “What matters is what we are able to implement,” said Mr. Schulz, who was re-elected as the Social Democrats’ party leader with 81 percent of the vote. The Christian Democrats welcomed the decision and said their leadership would convene on Sunday and Monday to discuss their strategy for the talks. The goal, said a party whip, Klaus Schüler, was “to build a stable government for our country. That is our responsibility and that is what the people expect.”

The threat of early elections has forced a change of heart by the Social Democrats, who had announced after the Sept. 24 election that they would not join another Merkel coalition. That election delivered a difficult result. Mr. Schulz’s Social Democrats slipped by 5 percentage points, a performance for which he apologized in his conference speech. Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats lost even more support — 7 percentage points — but remained the strongest party, with the task of seeking partners to build a government. The far-right party Alternative for Germany, or AfD, was voted into Parliament for the first time, as the third-strongest party, draining support from the two main parties in a significant showing of voter anger over immigration and inequality.

Ms. Merkel first tried to build a broad-based coalition with two smaller parties. After that effort collapsed last month, the country’s president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, whose responsibility it would be to call new elections, told politicians it was their job, not that of voters, to find a solution, leading Ms. Merkel to turn again to her most recent partners. Last week, the chancellor sat down with Mr. Steinmeier, Mr. Schulz, and the head of the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party of her own Christian Democratic Union, to determine whether they could talk. Mr. Schulz insisted that members of his party must decide whether to proceed. Most Germans would like to see Ms. Merkel returned to office, a regular political survey by the polling company Infratest Dimap found, with 56 percent expressing a positive view toward a fourth term for the chancellor. German sentiment has also become more favorable toward another coalition of the country’s two largest parties, after 10 weeks without leadership.

But the Social Democrats are insisting that any new government would have to more clearly bear their own stamp, and to fulfill promises from their election campaign, which focused heavily on social justice issues. Ms. Nahles said her party had identified certain “essential, important issues,” including health care, European policy, affordable housing and increased spending on social welfare programs for seniors. “But we are not going into talks with a big bundle of red lines,” she told Deutschlandfunk radio on Friday. “Then we could save ourselves the talk altogether.”


© The New York Times.
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Germany to surveil far-right doomsday 'prepper scene'

Germany is to begin surveillance of a growing subculture with some far-right affiliations known as the "prepper scene." The network collects weapons and other supplies in case of natural disasters or social collapse.

8/12/2017- Germany's federal and state interior ministers have decided to keep the country's growing "prepper" scene under surveillance, according to a report by the RND media group. The issue was raised at the interior ministers' conference in Leipzig, where both governing parties, the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), were understood to support the measure. The "prepper scene" refers to a loose network of people collecting firearms and other supplies in preparation for a collapse of state power. There are thought to be well over 100,000 preppers in Germany, and there are suspicions that some members have connection to the far-right, though few details are publicly known. During an anti-terrorism raid in the northeastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania at the end of August, German police searched the offices and apartments of six preppers, two of whom were suspected of preparing a terrorist act — though no arrests were made. In response, the state's Interior Minister Lorenz Caffier established a commission to investigate the preppers.

Police officers and soldiers
The newspaper Die Welt reported in September that the investigators had found lists of more than 5,000 mostly left-wing local and national politicians during the raid, with files on the politicians including their names, addresses and photos — though there was no clear evidence that the politicians in question were being spied on by the preppers. The group that was searched included both an active police officer and a Rostock-based lawyer who has denied that the list was a "kill list." The taz newspaper reported that five of the six men searched were members of the German military's reservists' association, and would therefore have had regular access to firearms. The six men belonged to a network that exchanged messages in a chat group on the encrypted messenger service Telegram, in which they discussed the Bundeswehr's troop movements and vaccine shortages.

There are indications that this prepper scene had ties to Germany's neo-Nazis. According to Die Welt, the August raid was carried out as part of the investigations into Franco A., a far-right Bundeswehr officer who was arrested earlier this year for allegedly planning a "false flag" terrorist attack in disguise as a Syrian refugee. A German prepper who wanted to remain anonymous told DW that he had encountered people from the "far-right scene" among preppers who wanted to make money from survivalists, while some preppers had stopped using the term altogether because of such extremist connotations. "You also find people with Scientology connections and 'info warriors' in the scene," he said. "But there are also fairly normal people like me, who already had to live off my provisions twice, when money was very tight."

Collecting guns
On its website, the German prepper community (PGD), identifies its own roots in a 19th century American movement that originated among farmers during lean times in the US Civil War. "The prepper educates himself in various areas and specializes in them," the PGD website says. "The prepper acquires capabilities over time, during which he makes his preparations and studies the most diverse possible danger situations such as tornados, flooding, earthquakes, economic collapse, wars, etc., as well as circumstances in his immediate surroundings." The skills listed on the PGD site include finding food, treating water, hunting skills, self-defense, first aid, as well as building shelters and bunkers. The site also describes firearms as the "biggest difference" between preppers in the US and Europe.

Since guns are easier to buy in the US, the site argues that US preppers are beginning to fear that other preppers are becoming more armed than they are, and so might be able to overpower them in a crisis situation — resulting in a "spiral of rearmament." Unlike in Europe, prepping has also become a major industry in the US, where businesses now routinely sell survival equipment and offer courses to prepare for a crisis situation. Many US preppers are also Mormons, a religion that teaches its followers to collect and keep food and money in reserve. Despite the far-right associations of the preppers' movement, the PGD points out that the German government itself has an agency dedicated to "civil protection and disaster assistance" (BBK), which publishes pamphlets on how to prepare for disaster scenarios. The PGD says that preppers are "experienced partners" for the government on the issue. The BBK even advises citizens to keep an "emergency rucksack" ready in case of evacuations, containing a first aid kit, a radio with batteries, a camera, and provisions.

Editor's note: Deutsche Welle follows the German press code, which stresses the importance of protecting the privacy of suspected criminals or victims and obliges us to refrain from revealing full names in such cases.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Germany: Far-right activist allowed to sell gallows built for Merkel

8/12/2017- A court has allowed an opponent of Angela Merkel’s refugee policy to continue to sell miniature gallows with her name on them after ruling that they were artworks. Jens Doebel initially created full-size gallows two years ago for a street demonstration in Dresden by the anti-immigration movement Pegida (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West). The small wooden replicas he sells for €29.95 have two nooses. One is “reserved” for the German chancellor and the other for Sigmar Gabriel, her deputy. The public prosecutors’ office in Chemnitz, a city in Saxony, where the Pegida movement was founded, investigated a complaint that the models incited violence, which is punishable by a fine or up to five years in prison. The prosecutors ruled that the gallows were artworks and should not be taken seriously. A spokesman said: “It cannot be proven that the accused wanted to incite third parties to an unlawful act, namely to kill Mrs Merkel or Mr Gabriel.” Doebel, 41, argued that the gallows were not a call to violence but symbolic of the “political death” of the two leaders.
© The Times.

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Germany: Berlin Ali Baba playground opens after controversy

An Ali Baba themed playground has been subject to vitriolic attacks for its Islamic symbols. One of the structures seemed to resemble a mosque and has a crescent moon on top.

7/12/2017- An Ali Baba-themed playground opened its doors in Berlin on Thursday after weeks of controversy over claims of creeping Islamization. The opening appeared to go smoothly, with authorities denying that the nearby presence of police officers and vehicles was related to the event. The playground drew controversy after images were released showing a large playhouse shaped somewhat like a mosque and topped with a crescent moon. The Berlin faction of the far-right populist AfD party wrote on Twitter: "Playgrounds are already turning into religious institutions," when the first images of the construction site appeared. Heavy criticism followed from far-right groups, including the anti-Islamic Pegida movement.

Even the state branch of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union weighed in, with the faction's spokesman for integration policy telling Berliner Zeitung: "This very questionable project was probably conceived by some civil servant who thinks he has made a contribution to intercultural understanding." He later toned down his comments. Parents interviewed by local papers were mixed in their response to the park, some saying that religious symbols had no place in a children's playground, while others were indifferent. Complicating matters is the fact the park was built in the borough of Neukölln, the center of Berlin's Turkish population and a frequent target of far-right groups for the many Muslim immigrants who live there.

It's an oriental castle
Neukölln's district mayor, Franziska Giffey denied the playground depicted a mosque. "The design has nothing to do with religion. The debate is really absurd," the SPD politician said at the opening ceremony on Wednesday. "We didn't build a mosque here, we built an oriental castle." She said the play area aimed to tell stories, stimulate children's imaginations and immerse them in a fairytale world. As well as the 5-meter (16-foot), crescent-moon-topped climbing house, there are also wooden palms, a bazaar, a flying carpet, Ali Baba and a treasure chest on the site. "Such themed playgrounds are not uncommon in Berlin and in Germany," the playground planner Axel Kruse told DPA news agency, pointing out other playgrounds themed with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Bernd das Brot, and other cartoon characters. Kruse's plans transformed a long-unsightly area in Walterstraße. "For 15 years there has been a park themed with the fairytales from 1001 nights. Nobody's ever been bothered by that," Kruse said.

The theme for the park came from polling the neighborhood residents on what they would like. They eventually settled on Ali Baba in reference to a nearby child care center called "Ali Baba and his Forty Thieves."  "I don't understand how this can be turned into a political and religious discussion," the director of the center Guldane Yilmaz told DPA. On Wednesday children were less occupied by the wider political ramifications of the park design and more intrigued by a big red Santa Claus distributing candy, three alpacas bought by the wise men, and a camel.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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German pilots refuse to carry out deportations

Pilots across Germany are stopping planned deportations of rejected asylum seekers. At the same time, refugees are appealing their deportation orders in record numbers - and winning.

5/12/2017- Many pilots in Germany are refusing to participate in deportations, local media reported on Monday. Following an information request from the Left party, the government said that 222 planned flights were stopped by pilots who wanted no part in the controversial return of refugees to Afghanistan, which, in some cases, has been deemed safe enough to allow deportations, despite ongoing violence and repression in parts of the country. Some 85 of the refusals between January and September 2017 came from Germany's main airline Lufthansa and its subsidiary Eurowings. About 40 took place at Dusseldorf airport, where the controversial deportations are routinely accompanied by protesters on the tarmac. The majority of the canceled flights, around 140, took place at Frankfurt Airport, Germany's largest and most important hub.

Lufthansa spokesman Michael Lamberty defended personnel who chose not to fly deported people back to their countries of origin, saying that sometimes security was a concern. "The decision not to carry a passenger is ultimately made by the pilot on a case by case basis. If he or she had the impression that flight safety could be affected, he must refuse to transport the passenger," Lamberty was quoted by the Westdeutsche Allegeimeine Zeitung as saying. According to Lamberty, Lufthansa pilots sometimes talk personally to passengers who are about to be deported prior to the flight. In general, these people are treated like normal passengers, "they have a valid ticket after all." "Should security personnel at the airports have some sort of information in advance which indicates that a situation could escalate during a deportation, they can decide ahead of time not to let the passengers board."

Germany decides more asylum cases than rest of EU combined
Despite an uptick in deportations, Germany remains the main destination for refugees and migrants to the European Union — so much so that in 2017, Germany processed more asylum applications than all 27 other EU countries combined. Die Welt daily, quoting the European statistics agency Eurostat, said that the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) decided 388,201 asylum cases in the first six months of 2017. As Germany stepped up deportations, the number of asylum seekers appealing their decisions has increased significantly. Nearly every second ruling made by the BAMF in the first half of the year was brought before a judge. This is nearly double the number of appeals made during the same period in 2016 – as it stands now, the courts side with about one in every four asylum seekers who appeal their status. According to public broadcaster NDR, these suits have cost Berlin about €19 million ($22.5 million) from January to November 2017, an increase of €7.8 million from the previous year.

In order to reduce the number of appeals and speed up deportations, the government has proposed a program to begin in February 2018 that would see rejected asylum seekers given 3,000 euros as an incentive to accept deportation.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Germany's far-right AfD chooses nationalist as co-leader

2/12/2017- Members of the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party elected a right-wing nationalist to be their co-leader on Saturday, signaling a possible toughening of tone before regional votes next year. A party congress chose Alexander Gauland - who once defended an AfD member who had said history should be rewritten to focus on German victims of World War Two - to return to the post he had held until 2015. As members deliberated, thousands of anti-AfD protesters marched outside carrying placards reading “Hanover against Nazis” and “Stand up to racism”. Earlier, riot police fired water cannon at dozens of protesters who blocked a road leading to the congress, underlining the divisive impact the party has had since it entered the Bundestag lower house for the first time in a Sept. 24 election.

The party’s incumbent leader Jorg Meuthen - seen as a relative moderate in the movement - won enough votes to keep his post. But in a vote that dragged into the evening, he was joined as co-leader by Gauland, who ran for the post at the last minute after another candidate seen as a moderate, Georg Pazderski, failed to win enough votes. Before the leadership vote, Meuthen praised the party often beset by internal strife for showing unity after two senior members quit in September in protest against what they saw as an unstoppable populist streak. “There are people in this country who don’t only say ‘We can do this’ but who actually manage to do something,” Meuthen told delegates, putting a new twist on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “Wir schaffen das” (We can do it) message to those who doubted Germany can deal with a record influx of migrants in 2015.

Votes Next Year
As thousands of protesters marched peacefully outside, AfD delegates watched a short film that painted a gloomy picture of Europe’s largest economy being overrun by beggars, stone-throwers and Muslims. Founded in 2013 as a vehicle to oppose euro zone bailouts, the AfD was polling at around 3 percent nationally two years ago on the eve of the refugee crisis. The arrival of more than 1.6 million people seeking asylum in the two years to the end of 2016 has helped it morph into an anti-immigrant party that now has seats in 14 of Germany’s 16 regional parliament. Polls suggest it will win seats in next year’s regional elections in the southern state of Bavaria and the western region of Hesse, which would give it a foothold in all of Germany’s state parliaments.

Gauland replaces Frauke Petry, who quit to become an independent member of parliament. Her sudden departure two days after the AfD became the first far-right party to win seats in the Bundestag since the 1950s exposed rifts over whether the party should ditch rhetoric including statements saying Islam was not compatible with the German constitution.
© Reuters.

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