Weekly News Review

29th February, 2004

European Commission complicit in Slovak discrimination against Roma


Recent riots of angry Roma people in Eastern Slovakia are a direct result of the failure of the European Commission to ensure that Slovakia meets pre-accession criteria affecting their interests and rights, especially in regard to education, employment and social policy, according to NGOs in the country.  Directly responsible for the riots are the Slovak and Czech governments, who are accused of deliberately aggravating the Romas' already extensive and well-founded grievances. The objective is to create an increasingly desperate situation for the Roma and social unrest timed to occur around EU accession so as to make the "Roma problem", a European problem. The European Commission's responsibility is for its faiolure to take any action to address the problem.


The Slovak government continues to apply systematic and structural discrimination against the Roma in education, training and employment. This has been exacerbated by recent deep cuts in social security payments as the government attempts to reach the croteria for the Stability Pact, which limits public debt.


The Slovak Roma Parliament, a coalition of Slovak NGOs, cancelled a demonstration planned for last Wednesday when a peaceful protest rally the previous day in Eastern Slovakia degenerated into riots and the looting of food stores. 


Opposition parties and Roma activists are attempting to draw urgent attention to the pressing problem of hunger in the community, while also highlighting longer term issues such as segregated schooling and the actual exclusion of Roma children from eductaion, as well as the lack of training and investment in job creation. They are demanding that the government explain where millions of Euros of pre-accession funding earmarked for projects aimed in particular at improving the situation of the Roma have gone, as are activists in the Czech republic and Hungary.


Ladislav Fizik, leader of the Slovak Roma Parliament, said that "If the government does not begin to pay attention to the difficult social situation of the Roma community...protests will widen to include blockades of highways. If (this) does not lead to serious steps to improve the social situation of the Roma, protests in front of the Cabinet Office in Bratislava will follow." A meeting of the parliament agreed to write to the European Commission complaining about the unwillingness of the Slovak government to deal with the community's problems.


Opposition parties also criticised the government, with the Communist Party of Slovakia (KSS) stating that the unrest was "a consequence of the new social security laws, which are having an impact on the standard of living (of Roma people)." The party is also demanding early elections, and urged citizens to vote yes in a referendum, scheduled for April 3 (the day of the presidential elections) asking voters to state whether they are "in favor of parliament's adopting a constitutional law to shorten the Slovak Parliament's third election period so that the next parliamentary elections would be held in 2004?” The referendum was added to the ballot when trade unions and certain opposition parties submitted a petition demanding it. The petition was signed by over 600,000 people.


The European Committee on Romani Emancipation (ECRE), a UK-based activist group, initiated legal action against the European Commission last week for its failure to act on Roma questions in the Czech republic, Hungary and Slovakia.  They claim that the fault is not simply one of oversight or even of ignorance of the reality of the problems on the ground, but that senior officials at the Commission are themselves guilty of racial discrimination and of negative stereotyping of Roma people.


For more information on he developing situation go to http://www.RomNews.com


European Parliament agrees ban on "dirty dozen" chemicals - but stays execution for DDT


The European Parliament this week approved, by a very large majority, a report on persistent organic pollutants (POPs) by Danish MEP Pernille Frahm (European United Left/Nordic Green Left - GUE/NGL). Frahm, of the Danish Socialist People's Party (SF), described the vote as "A great victory for the environment. These 12 substances—aptly nicknamed the "dirty dozen"—are already banned by the 2001 UN Stockholm Convention, but had not yet been dealt with by EU legislation. Now we have agreed with the Council of Ministers to honour our international commitment on the production, trade and use of POPs and, where possible, impose stricter rules in the EU. I succeeded in adding HCH, including lindane, to the list of 12 chemicals to be banned. Although this ban will take immediate effect for 11 of the 13 chemicals, some limited derogations on DDT and lindane were necessary to reach a compromise. In spite of my best efforts, DDT has been granted a stay of execution until 2014 at the insistence of the Spanish government; however, the derogation concerns only one Spanish factory and will most probably be revoked in 2008.


"A ban on POPs is extremely important. Astonishing though it may sound, every human carries traces of these chemicals in his or her body. POPs can resist degradation for years and circulate globally. That is why they have been found in the outermost Arctic regions. To think that your health is being damaged in this way, with no consent or even knowledge, is frightening. Unsuspecting victims pay the price of their health for industry's profiteering. Take Greenland for example, where many depend on eating seafood and wildlife which are contaminated by these substances."


Although the whole world is uniting in its efforts to banish POPs, some countries will have more difficulty than others: "That is why I insisted that the EU give special consideration to developing countries. For example, DDT has been used in preventing diseases like malaria. Although the Committee approved my amendment unanimously on financial and technical support for researching alternatives and sending experts to developing countries, this was not accepted by the Commission and Council. The governments patently prefer to use the EU budget to support rich European farmers - the Danish Ministry for Agriculture receives EU grants of more than €50,000 annually - than to protect the environment and helping the worlds' poorest."


While generally happy with the compromise struck, Frahm regrets that certain governments, notably Germany, the UK and France, were intent on defending their own industrial interests. "Although the German government seemed to want to hide hazardous substances underground and forget about their existence, I convinced my counterparts that this could only happen if such operations were the most environmentally preferable available." Frahm fought hard for an even stricter regime on POPs, which would have included "name and shame" provisions, more explicit provision on banning the export of POPs, allocating responsibility for obsolete stockpiles, and a complete ban on DDT.


No regrets for woman who exposed Bush and Blair's spooks


"I have no regrets, and I would do it again," former British intelligence employee Katharine Gun said on Wednesday in London, just after the Blairite government dropped charges against her for violating the Official Secrets Act.


In early March 2003, the Observer newspaper in Britain published a US National Security Agency memo describing a "surge" in UN spying aimed at winning authorization for war on Iraq. Operations were targeted against delegations from countries on the Security Council whose votes could swing the result.  Katharine Gun, who leaked the memo, faced two years in prison.


In Washington, public interest group the Institute for Public Accuracy issued a statement  praising Gun as "a genuine heroine". The statement added: "She courageously exposed what the Blair and Bush governments sought to keep from the light of day -- the spying on UN diplomats at a crucial time when the Security Council was considering a resolution for war on Iraq. Now, top officials in London and Washington hope that the UN spying scandal will quickly subside -- but it should not, and it will not. New revelations in recent weeks present a challenge - and an opportunity - for governments around the world to assert themselves on behalf of UN



IPA executive director Norman Solomon added that: "The legal case against Katharine Gun ended today, but the political case against the governments of Tony Blair and George W. Bush has just begun. The illegal spying at the United Nations on behalf of an illegal war is further indication of their responsibility for a heinous war of aggression."


Phyllis Bennis, of the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, known to Spectre readers as a fellow of the TransNational Institute in Amsterdam, said: "As far back as the months leading up to the 1945 San Francisco conference that founded the United Nations, as well as during the conference itself, U.S. intelligence agencies were bugging the offices and rooms of the other delegations, and intercepting and breaking coded diplomatic messages - including those of Washington's closest allies - in an operation known as 'Ultra.' The US used the knowledge obtained from the illegal bugs to craft the UN's agenda, draft the UN Charter, and pressure other countries to accept Washington's positions on such issues as the veto and

permanent Security Council seats for itself and its allies."


Go to  http://www.accuracy.org/gun and http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/3485072.stm for more on Katharine Gun's case.


From Mumbai with Hope


As the fourth World Social Forum in Mumbai showed, the social forum movement continues to go from strength to strength. Hilary Wainwright explains what distinguishes this new way of organising for social justice from the labour movements and political parties of old. Go to  http://www.tni.org/archives/wainwright/mumbai.htm


International campaign against US military bases


There is worldwide concern at the state of permanent war that the Bush administration has declared, with Iraq being seen as but one expression of US imperial ambitions. For many years, citizens in countries which host the 702 US military bases around the world have been campaigning to close the bases and withdraw the troops. Concerns ranging from the rape of local girls to nuclear weapons storage. The anti-war movement of 2003 gave great impetus to these struggles and at the World Social Forum in Mumbai in Janauary, Focus on the Global South and others convened an international conference to launch an international campaign against US foreign military bases. The idea first arose at the Jakarta global peace activist meeting of May 2003 which brought together key players in the global anti- war movement that had mobilised 11 million people against the war in Iraq a few months before. The report of the Mumbai conference is now available. Report of the Conference



The Collapse of New Russia


Boris Kagarlitsky declares that among the victims of Moscow's disaster at the "largest water park in Europe" was the myth of the self- sufficiency of the market. Go to