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February 19 2014

The Journalistic Purgatory of Eastern Europe

'The rose and the newspaper'

‘The rose and the newspaper’ by Borislav Dimitrov on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

We were told the end of totalitarian regimes would lead to a free press, but Central and Eastern European media is less free now than at any point in the past 20 years.

Governments in the region, long used to having unadulterated control over media content, have been reasserting authority. Strong-arming, threats, amendments to law, arrests, destruction of media equipment and property, and beatings have been documented throughout the region with increasing frequency.

In sitting down to write this piece, I was confident I could shed light on the worst examples of media repression from Eastern Europe, as I follow the subject daily and live in Serbia. But as I began looking at case after devastating case, I began to see a larger picture that taken together point to a media system that is badly broken.

To begin understanding, we must clarify the image the typical global reader has of Central and Eastern Europe from 20th century history. Countries in the region with the most threats on freedom of the press, regardless of whether they are EU member states, have double-digit unemployment rates and an enormous gap in income disparity. A very small percentage of extremely wealthy citizens are frequently connected to government, while the vast majority of citizens barely make ends meet. The strong, stable middle class that many Central European socialist countries maintained for some 50 years has been virtually wiped out.

Social and economic factors lay the foundation for the media landscape, because livelihoods depend on the decisions of their local and national government officials. This leads the citizens of most Central and Eastern European to pay close attention to local politics. Societies which follow their governments so avidly should have highly active investigative journalist networks. A host of factors mediates against this from happening in practice.

Follow the Money

Members of the media are very poorly paid for their work, often employed as part-time or outsourced staff, while operating budgets for reporting are minimal. Investigative journalism rarely occurs in this economic environment. Low wages also open doors to bribery of journalists and editors, cash payment for publishing articles and for pushing or ignoring stories based on non-journalistic interests.

Several Eastern European countries have started cracking down on significant investigative journalism. Macedonia, for example convicted investigative journalist Tomislav Kezarovski in October of 2013 and jailed conspiracy-theorist and journalist Zoran Bozinovski less than a month later. Although the vast majority of Macedonia's press is private, the government was among the 50 biggest media advertisers in 2012, securing a huge influence in both state and private media, say Macedonian journalists Tamara Causidis and Dragan Sekulovski in a guest article on Index on Censorship.

The media houses in all these countries rely mostly on advertising revenue to stay afloat. Business money is frequently connected to politics and political figures. The consequence is self-censorship. Eastern European journalists who write critically of those in power risk offending those who control the advertising money, and thus risk their livelihood and, at times, their physical safety.

In Albania, which last year ranked 102nd of 173 countries in the Reporters without Borders “Freedom of the Press Index”, the media market is so poor and overcrowded it's difficult to sustain, says Besar Likmeta in an article on Balkan Insight. “Most Albanian media are dependent on big corporate advertisers as their main source of revenue, and internal emails show that they can easily skew editorial policy,” says Likmeta.

The situation is similar in most countries of the region. Self-censorship can be further encouraged through unofficial calls from those in power, killing stories before they reach publication. Journalists and editors who publish regardless risk lawsuits, threats, harassment, and even violence.

OSCE Freedom of Media representative Dunja Mijatovic often expresses concern regarding increased media regulation. In Hungary, she has warned of disproportionately high prison sentences for defamatory video and sound recordings, saying such laws are easy to use to silence critics or differing views. In Romania in last year, she called on the Romanian government not to “re-criminalize free speech” saying it could have a chilling effect on investigative journalism through fear and self-censorship.

In Ukraine, before the ongoing Euromaidan protests in the country, many already drew attention to the lack of media freedom, that has only worsened since. Ukraine scholar Andrew Wilson wrote on openDemocracy in October 2013, just weeks before the anti-government protests began:

Now it is media freedom that is under attack. Ukraine’s biggest TV channel ‘Inter’ was still showing signs of independence around October; in February, however, it was taken over by the Head of the Presidential Administration, and a leading oligarch.[...]

Next in line is Ukraine’s most famous web site, Ukrainska Pravda (Ukrainian Truth).[...] Its founding editor, Georgy Gongadze, was a thorn in the side of the then authorities. He disappeared in September 2000, and two months later was found gruesomely murdered.

There are dozens more examples of conflict of interest, intimidation, bribery and corruption in Eastern and Central Europe. The media landscape of the region finds itself in purgatory.

Less Safety Online

Internet penetration rates in Central and Eastern European countries are high and their citizens have a historical habit of turning to alternative sources of information, due to the closed character of official media under communist and socialist regimes in the 20th century. Citizen media and social networks were for several years viewed as a way out of this stalemate, for some perhaps even as a “safe zone” for freedom of expression, due to the respective governments’ lack of monitoring.

This, however, has now changed drastically. Governments in Ukraine, Serbia, Albania, Bulgaria and Hungary now see the influence citizen media and social networks can have on politicians’ reputations and elections. They have responded with close monitoring, and attempts to control what users are uploading and saying. Without much success, of course, but the result is direct pressure on common citizens’ freedom of expression and added pressure on media.

In Serbia for example, online commentary and information was fairly freely passed between users in the late 90s during the Milosevic era, whose regime appeared not to view the Internet as a major threat and thus seldom monitored citizens in public online spaces. Today, personal websites and social network profiles are under direct attack in Serbia for sharing a satirical video of the Deputy Prime Minister and similar materials.

Significant political and economic news in most Central and Eastern European countries now spread through human networks by word-of-mouth and are often reshaped into rumor. Journalists hold back important news stories in their heads, or on post-it notes in their drawers, unable to research them, much less hand them in to their editors for publishing. Citizens, even when afforded a venue where they could express their opinions, now often choose not to. These countries and their media have visibly reached an informational stalemate.

But the tighter the grip of politicians on media, the greater the anger of the people. Media are either unable or unwilling to fight for journalistic freedom, a condition echoed in the development of democracy in the region. Now, in countries in which governments have stifled the free expression of their citizens on the Internet, people are beginning to rise against those in power, calling them out for corruption and incompetence.

After Bulgaria, Ukraine and others, Bosnia-Herzegovina is the latest country in the region to see mass protests both on the streets and online. On February 11, 2014, in the midst of protests in Tuzla and Sarajevo, the Cantonal Court in Sarajevo ordered “temporary seizure” of all media property documenting the protests in Sarajevo. Decisions like this to silence media only fuel citizens’ demand for access to information and freedom of expression. When all boundaries have been crossed, change is bound to happen.

Danica Radisic is the Central and Eastern Europe Editor of Global Voices. She is a corporate communications consultant, writer, blogger, poet, and native speaker of Serbian, English and Portuguese. A Serbian native, she was born and raised on the Iberian Peninsula, with some time spent in the Middle East and U.S. She is a mother of two and CEO of Krazy Fish Consulting.

February 11 2014

Prisoners Lists Stir Informbiro Memories in Former Yugoslav Republics

The recent publishing of lists of prisoners of Goli Otok, victims of communist purges in Yugoslavia from 1949 to 1956, has reignited dormant debates and opened some old wounds, across all the former Yugoslav republics.

Goli Otok is a Croatian island that was used as a prison camp during the so-called “Informbiro era” – the post-World War II breakdown between the communist leaderships of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. For many Yugoslavs, “Tito's historical ‘No!’ to Stalin” was a source of pride, especially because it solidified their country's role as an intermediary between the Western and Eastern Bloc. The purges that were part of the clash officially included persecution of alleged “pro-Soviet communists”. According to the victims and dissidents of the time, this was often just an excuse by the country's power-mongers to get rid of anyone they disliked for any reason and, thus, people of many other political affiliations were sent to the notorious camp.

Prison area of Goli Otok. Photo by Wikipedia (CC BY-SA).

Abandoned prison area of Goli Otok. Photo by Wikipedia (CC BY-SA).

During the last two months of 2013, Croatian portal Novi Plamen (New Flame) published two lists compiled by UDBA (Yugoslav State Security Service) from the State Archive of Croatia – the list of the 413 people [hr] who died in the camps, and the list of all 16,101 prisoners [hr] who had served sentences there. The second link spread widely through social networks and then through news portals in all six former Yugoslav republics.

Scan of the second page of Goli Otok prisoner list, displaying names, birthdates and codes for municipality, ethnicity, type of crime, dates of start and end of emprisonment... Published by Novi Plamen.

Scan of the second page of Goli Otok prisoner list, displaying names, birthdates and codes for municipality, ethnicity, type of crime, dates of start and end of emprisonment… Published by Novi Plamen.

Slovenian right-wing blogger Pavel noted [si] that the publishing of the lists coincided with the recent December 9, 2013, death of Jovo Kapičić [sr], who had allegedly been the man in charge of Goli Otok. In an August 2013 interview, Kapičić, a Serb, claimed [sr] that the Serbs had made up the majority of prisoners at the camp.

Twitter user ‏@flusteredcooler from Montenegro commented on this issue as well and, while people from all of the former Yugoslav republics often claim that their nationals made up the majority of those sentenced to serve time at Goli Otok, he noticed:

Legend says that most of the population of Goli Otok consisted of Montenegrins? The lists show that it was Yugoslavia in a nutshell [representing everybody]

A senior Macedonian blogger, among the oldest members of the local blogosphere, and a World War II anti-fascist resistance veteran, Buv (“Owl”), posted an announcement [mk] by the Association of former Goli Otok prisoners, advising caution in relation to the lists and offering first-hand consultations to all interested parties:

Темата за “голооточаните“.“информбировците“затвореници што ја издржувале казната во логорот Голи Оток е дел од пошироката историска тема за конфликтот меѓу СССР и СФРЈ.Не може да се зборува за казнениците на Голи Оток,без да се разгледуваат во комлесот на историските збиднувања.

Независно од тоа колку биле свесни/идејно свесни/за својот однос кон конкретните настани,учесниците во збиднувањата,што подоцна се нашле на Голи Оток,се учесници во еден политички судир кој има исклучително историско значење,за нив,за нивната земја,за пошироките светски движења.

Ова отклонување го направивме за да обрниме внимание на оние лесно искажани карактеристики што се даваат по повод на објавените списоци за голооточаните/информбировците/ и во други прилики.Без да се има во вид поширокиот контекст на случувањата,може паушално да се кажува се и сешто.Важноста на историската проблематика бара сериозен пристап.

Здружението Голи Оток,меѓу другото,ја има и таа задача да ја објасни,документира,да ја покаже историската вистина за настаните во кои независно од нивната волја се нашле и овие страдалници,што така строго ги казнила историјата.

The topic of the “inhabitants of Goli Otok,” the “Informbiro prisoners” is part of a larger historical topic about the conflict between the [USSR] and the [SFRY]. One cannot talk about the Goli Otok prisoners without taking into account the complexity of historical events.

Regardless of how much they were aware or ideologically involved in these concrete events, the participants who were detained on Goli Otok were engulfed in a political clash with exceptional historical importance, for them personally, for their country and the wider world movement.

We publish this notice to draw attention to the reactions that have been published with great ease after the lists of prisoners were exposed, as well at other occasions. Without taking into consideration the wider context of events, anyone can say anything without arguments. The importance of the historical issues requires a very serious approach.

The Goli Otok Association has the mission to explain, document and disclose the historical truth about the events which unwittingly encompassed these sufferers, who were so severely punished by history.

Informbiro activities left deep trauma in the collective former Yugoslav memory, parts of which were artistically expressed through popular cult movies like When Father Was Away on Business (1985) by then young Bosnian/Serbian director Emir Kusturica, and Happy New Year '49 (1986) by Macedonian director Stole Popov.

January 21 2014

Rare Roma Holocaust Documentation Center to Open in Hungary

Sinti and Roma people about to be deported by the Nazis, taken in the German town of Asperg, May 22, 1940; photograph courtesy of German Federal Archives, used under Creative Commons 3.0 license.

Sinti and Roma people about to be deported by the Nazis, taken in the German town of Asperg, May 22, 1940; photograph courtesy of German Federal Archives, used under Creative Commons 3.0 license.

A Roma Holocaust center is planned to be opened in the southern Hungarian city of Pecs by the end of 2014. The documentation center is the joint effort of the local municipality of Pecs and the Hungarian Roma minority, and will also collaborate with the Pecs University in teaching students about this often forgotten part of European 20th century history.

The Roma Holocaust, also known as Porajmos in Romani, was an attempt by Nazi Germany to exterminate the Romani people in Europe. Approximately between 1933 and 1945, Roma citizens from many European countries were persecuted, imprisoned, stripped of their nationality, often transported to other Nazi-occupied or Nazi-collaborator countries, where many were killed. The numbers have mostly been downplayed by Nazi collaborators, but the estimated number of Roma killed during that period in Europe is between 220 thousand and 1.5 million.

West Germany recognized the Roma Holocaust in 1982, but formal recognition and marking of this Holocaust have generally proven to be difficult due to lack of recorded collective memory and documentation of the Porajmos among the Roma, a consequence both of their oral traditions and illiteracy, heightened by widespread poverty and discrimination in this day and age, all of which makes the opening of this center in Pecs paramount in commemorating this tragic portion of Romani and European history.

January 20 2014

European Citizens Call for the Protection of Media Pluralism

For updates follow @MediaECI on Twitter and 'like' the Facebook page European Initiative for Media Pluralism.

Website: MediaInitiative.eu. For updates follow @MediaECI on Twitter and ‘like’ the Facebook page European Initiative for Media Pluralism.

“European institutions should safeguard the right to free, independent and pluralistic information”. The quote, from the Media Initiative website, summarizes the main idea behind a pan-European campaign that aims at urging the European Commission to draft a Directive to protect Media Pluralism and Press Freedom.

The Media Initiative is running a European Citizens’ Initiative - a tool of participatory democracy “which allows civil society coalitions to collect online and offline one million signatures in at least 7 EU member states to present directly to the European Commission a proposal forming the base of an EU Directive, initiating a legislative process”. The petition is available in 15 languages and can be signed online:

Protecting media pluralism through partial harmonization of national rules on media ownership and transparency, conflicts of interest with political office and independence of media supervisory bodies.

A short video presents the campaign:

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

December 15 2013

New Website Collects Reports and Data About Bribes in Hungary

Hungary, like many other countries in the region, has an on-going corruption problem on almost every level of governance. A new project created by investigative website Átlátszó.hu and Transparency International, Fizettem.hu, has taken on the task of collecting reports from citizens about cases of bribery and corruption in the country.

How much cash do corrupt police officers in Hungary take to ignore a misdemeanour or traffic violation? What is the cost for doctors take better care of a pacient in hospital? How much does the average Hungarian pay to get something done faster in government agencies? The anti-corruption website that aims to answer these questions was launched in December 2013 and collected over one hundred stories from users in just days. The project's goal is not only to raise awareness and draw wider attention to cases of corruption on all levels, but also to collect enough specific data to generate a more concrete picture of corruption in Hungary, so that it can be used in fixing these issues. The website explains:

A Fizettem.hu oldalon megoszthatod a saját történetedet arról, hol, mikor, ki és mennyi kenőpénzt fizettetett veled, esetleg te önszántadból miért érezted úgy, hogy adnod kell. Sőt, azt is megírhatod, ha visszautasították, vagy te utasítottad vissza a felajánlott összeget. A beküldött történetek előzetes moderáció után kerülnek ki az oldalra és szükség esetén anonimizáljuk ezeket. A történetben bevallott összegek alapján folyamatosan nyomon követjük, hogy az egyes szektorokban mennyi kenőpénzt fizetnek az emberek. A történetedet a BEJELENTEM gomb alatt tudod megosztani.

The Fizettem.hu page lets you share your own story about where, when, who and how much in bribes you paid, or explain why you felt the need to give them. In fact, we accept reports if your bribe was rejected or you refused to pay the asked amount. The stories are set aside after moderation and, if necessary, some are posted anonymously. We monitor based on the amounts declared in the story, calculating on average how much people are paying bribes to each sector. The story of the notifier [user] can be shared using the button below.

November 10 2013

Hungary Criticized for Lenient Naturalization Policy

With unemployment and economic concern growing in the European Union, Hungary is among some of the EU member states being criticized by its Union neighbors for more lenient laws passed in 2011 for attaining Hungarian citizenship. Charles Richardson explains why on Crikey's blogs:

Hungary has been giving some grief to its neighbors with a new law that allows people to claim Hungarian citizenship if they have (a) a direct ancestor who was a Hungarian citizen and (b) a basic knowledge of the Hungarian language. Apparently the latter requirement is being leniently interpreted.[...]

Two things make this more controversial than it might sound. One is that substantial chunks of Hungary’s neighbors were, at times in the last century, Hungarian territory. That means that a lot of Serbs, Slovaks, Romanians and Ukrainians are potential claimants, and it may make some of those neighbors worry about whether Hungary’s leaders have really given up the dream of recreating the “Great Hungary” that existed prior to 1920.[...]

The BBC reports that more than half a million people have taken advantage of the new law since it came into effect at the beginning of 2011, with about 100,000 from Serbia alone.

New Laws in Hungary May Restrict Media Freedom

On November 5, 2013, Hungarian Parliament adopted changes to the country's Criminal Code regarding potentially defamatory video or audio recordings. The new changes to this law include penalties such as imprisonment of up to three years for making such materials public. The longest prison sentence relates to materials published to a “wide audience” and, according to the OSCE and others, this directly targets the media. Dunja Mijatović, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, made an official statement on November 6, 2013, stressing concerns regarding the new laws and how they will impact journalism and media freedom. Ms. Mijatović said:

These amendments to the penal code can further restrict media freedom. The penalties for publishing defamatory recordings are disproportionate and may lead to the silencing of critical or differing views in society.[...]

These measures are excessive as they can have a chilling effect on investigative journalism and prevent satirical expression and critical points of view from being disseminated.[...]

Hungarian legislation already includes provisions to protect human dignity and penalize the fabrication of facts. Instead of adding new ways to chill public discourse and curb media freedom, Hungary should eliminate existing legal obstacles to media freedom.

November 05 2013

‘Women Should Be Submissive', and Other Google Autocomplete Suggestions

A series of ads by UN Women, revealed in late October, used the Google Autocomplete feature to uncover widespread negative attitudes toward women. Global Voices followed reactions to the UN Women campaign and conducted its own experiment in different languages. The results of searches conducted both within the UN Women campaign and Global Voices revealed popular attitudes not only about women’s social and professional roles, but also about their sexuality, appearance and relationships with men.

UN Women ad featuring Google autocomplete suggestions for the phrase

UN Women ad featuring Google autocomplete suggestions for the phrase “women shouldn't”

The creators of the UN Women ads used search phrases like “women cannot”, “women shouldn’t”, “women should” and “women need to” completed by genuine Google search terms to highlight overwhelmingly negative stereotypes, sexist and highly discriminatory views held about women by society globally. The ads quickly went viral and sparked a heated discussion online. Last week, creators have announced that they are planning to expand the campaign in response to the mass online reaction.

The auto-complete function for searches, according to Google, predicts users’ queries based on the search activity of all users of the web as well as the content of indexed pages. The predictions may also be influenced by past searches of the particular user if they are signed into their Google account.

Global Voices asked its contributors from around the world to carry out Google searches using the same or similar phrases as those used in the UN Women campaign, in their own languages. The searches done between October 19 and October 25, 2013, revealed attitudes about the roles women are expected to take in society, often demonstrating the same global prejudices, but sometimes showing contradictions in different countries. Below are searches in 12 languages from different countries and continents:

Spanish

Chile

“Women should not…”. A screenshot by Silvia Viñas. October 21, 2013.

Women should not…
Women should not preach
Women should not work
Women should not talk in the congregation
Women should not drive

Peru

“Women cannot…” A screenshot by Juan Arellano. October 21, 2013.

Women cannot…
Women cannot preach
Women cannot be pastors
Women cannot donate blood
Women cannot live without man

Puerto Rico

“Women should…”. A screenshot by Firuzeh Shokooh Valle. October 21, 2013.

Women should…
Women should be submissive
Women should use the veil
Women should preach
Women should work

French

France

“Women should…”. A screenshot by Suzanne Lehn. October 21, 2013.

Women should…
women should stay at home
women should work
should women preach
women should wear skirts
women should be submissive
women should know
women should vote
women should stay at home
should women work
women should do the cooking

“Women don't know…”. A screen shot by Rayna St. October 21, 2013.

Women don’t know…
women don't know how to drive
women don't know what they want
women don't know how to be in love
women don't know how to read cards

Arabic

Egypt (similar results in Jordan)

“Woman cannot…”. A screenshot by Tarek Amr. October 21, 2013.

Woman cannot…
Woman cannot live without marriage
Woman cannot live without a man
Woman cannot keep a secret
Woman cannot interpret man's silence

Chinese

“Women cannot…”. A screenshot by Gloria Wang. October 21, 2013.

Women cannot…
Women cannot be too smart
Women can't drive
Women cannot give birth
10 topics women cannot discuss with their husbands

Romanian

“Women should not…”. A screenshot by Diana Lungu. October 21, 2013.

women should not…
women should be loved not understood
women should not be understood
women should not wear pants
what women should not do in bed

 Italian

Italy

“Women should…”. A screenshot by Gaia Resta. October 22, 2013.

Women should…
Women should stay at home
should play hard to get
should stay in the kitchen
should be subdued

“Women should not…”. A screenshot by Gaia Resta. October 22, 2013.

Women should not…
Women should not be understood
should not work
should not be understood but loved
should not read

 German

Germany

“Woman should not…”. A screenshot by Katrin Zinoun. October 21, 2013.

Woman should not…
Woman should not teach
My wife should not work

“Woman can…”. A screenshot by Katrin Zinoun. October 21, 2013.

Woman can….
Woman cannot come
Woman cannot get pregnant
Woman cannot cook
Woman cannot get a baby

 Hebrew

“Women don't…”. A screenshot by
Gilad Lotan. October 21, 2013.

Women don't…
Women don't work
Women are not modest
Women don't know how to drive
Women don't want to have kids

 Hungarian

“A woman should be…”. A screenshot by Marietta Le.
October 21, 2013.

A woman should be…
a woman should be a chef in the kitchen
a woman should be pretty and ruthless

 Danish

“Women cannot…”. A screenshot by Solana Larsen. October 20, 2013.

Women cannot…
Women cannot drive
Women cannot control vagina
Women cannot be color blind
Women cannot barbecue

In Danish, the searches for “women cannot” and “women can” yielded the same results.

Russian
Russia

“Women should not…”. A screenshot by Veronica Khokhlova. October 19, 2013.

Women should not…
Women should not be believed
Women should not lift heavy things
Women should not drink
Women should not be trusted

 English

The UK

“Women should…”. A screenshot by Annie Zaman. October 25, 2013.

Women should…
Women should be seen and not heard
Women should stay at home
Women should know their place

 Not all searches carried out by members of Global Voices community turned up negative terms. Nevertheless, the results of the experiment largely confirm UN Women’s worrying conclusion that a great deal of work still remains to be done in order to advance women’s rights and empowerment around the world.

October 27 2013

Hungarian Student Bloggers Win Lawsuit Against University

Bloggers of Átlátszó Oktatás (Transparent Education) sued the largest Hungarian university ELTE's Law Faculty in spring 2013, in order to obtain documents on how state scholarships and bonus payments were distributed among the members of the faculty's student union. Because the university is entirely state-funded, the students demanded through a freedom of information request that the student union make its spending transparent.

The student union didn't reply to the request and the university rejected it. In response to this and with the help of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, the student bloggers filed a lawsuit. In October 2013, a court of first instance in Hungary ruled in favor of the student bloggers.

There have never been before any freedom of information case against any student union in Hungary. [They] spend a considerable amount of public money every year, for example the student unions of the faculties of ELTE dispose of around 680 000 euro in a year, and this amount is millions of euros countrywide.

October 16 2013

Asylum-Seekers Continue Hunger Strike in Hungary

Sixty asylum-seekers went on hunger strike yesterday in a southeast Hungarian detention camp for asylum-seekers, atlatszo.hu investigative journalism site's blog reported in their Blog Action Day post [hu] on human rights. The Office of Immigration and Nationality confirmed that the strike was started by five Malian citizens who were joined by 55 others requesting their replacement in an open camp. As of July 2013, Hungary places the undocumented asylum-seekers in detention camps. The five initiators continue the hunger strike.

On Blog Action Day, Thousands of Blogs on Human Rights

Today, thousands of bloggers join forces for Human Rights. It is Blog Action Day – a massive event that reaches a collective audience of millions and unites bloggers around the world.

Global Voices is a partner of Blog Action Day again this year, and we have been looking forward to another round of dedication to an important and ever-relevant topic. Some Global Voices contributors have also taken part in the event, and below you'll find excerpts from their personal blogs.

To participate in Blog Action Day, you can register your own blog on Blog Action Day's website. On Twitter, the hashtags to keep an eye on is #BAD13, #HumanRights, #Oct16.

Braille block floor in Japan helps guide the visually impaired. By Miki Yoshihito on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Braille block floor in Japan helps guide the visually impaired. By Miki Yoshihito on Flickr (CC BY)

This post will be updated throughout the day as new blogs are published.

 

 

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

September 16 2013

Hungary's Justice System Slow in Fighting Racial Crime

It took the Hungarian judiciary five years to convict the perpetrators of the cold-blooded murders of several Roma in Hungary. Four Hungarian men went on a rampage at the time, killing six Roma between March 2008 and August 2009. On August 6th, a Budapest court sentenced Zsolt Peto and brothers Arpad and Istvan Kiss to life in prison for the murderous spree, while their driver Istvan Csontos received 13 years as an accomplice.

The four killers, who hatched their plans in a pub in Debrecen in northeast Hungary, are hard core football fans with links to neo Nazi organizations. They showed no emotion as the verdicts were handed down.

Pressure put on Hungary's government by human rights activists and lawyers apparently brought results. Hungary's National Bureau of Investigation (NNI), the country's central police investigation office primarily dealing with terrorism and other national security threats, has now reopened the investigations into a series of murders of members of Hungary's Roma community in 2008 and 2009, to look for investigators’ failures and potential wrongdoing in the case, which caused the delay in finding and convicting the perpetrators. They suspect that one or more conspirators in these crimes remain free.

Hungarian public prosecutors have demanded an investigations of the military forces invloved as well, due to suspicions that Hungary's military intelligence service helped facilitate some of the murders. Hungarian Roma activist Aladar Horvath and others say these announcements represent “late, but welcome gestures” from the government to the victims.

Reactions of netizens have not abated since the verdict was announced. Helene Bienvenu, a freelance photojournalist from Detroit now living in Budapest, commented on Twitter:

John Clarke, an activist in this field from Toronto, blames these events on political attitudes and mainstream society:

In a recent article on this matter, The Economist has called the Roma population “Europe's biggest social problem”. A writer from Cambridge, Kari Sperring, asks for more information as many on social media are questioning Hungary's democratic status due to the government's handling of this case of serial murders involving a minority group:

In the meantime, Hungarian Deputy State Secretary for Global Affairs, Péter Wintermantel, gave a speech at the Fourth Conference of the Hungarian-Israeli Friendship Association, which was held in Zalaegerszeg on 24-26 August. In his speech, Wintermantel stressed that the Hungarian Government remained committed to fighting all forms of racism and anti-semitism, and would take all necessary action to prevent them.

However, research by Amnesty International suggests that hate crimes against Roma remain a serious concern in Hungary, while police lack the guidelines to thoroughly and effectively investigate them. In a new report titled “Violent attacks against Roma in Hungary”, data collected by Amnesty International shows how racially motivated crimes impact individual victims, communities and society as a whole. It also shows how shortcomings in the Hungarian justice system hinder the prevention of and response to such attacks:

Jezerca Tigani, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia Programme for Amnesty International said:

Five years after these cold-blooded killings, Roma in Hungary still do not receive adequate protection from hate crimes. [...]

This horrific case should have been a wake-up call about the continuous, often violent discrimination faced by the Roma community, but the perpetrators of such acts are still not being brought to justice.

August 17 2013

Bucharest, Not Budapest: A Chocolate Bar Explains the Difference

The capitals of Romania and Hungary, Bucharest and Budapest, respectively, are so often confused that those unfamiliar with the region often book airplane tickets to Bucharest, when their intention is to get to Budapest and vice-versa. In fact, 400 soccer fans from Spain chartered a flight last year to the 2012 Europa League Final in Budapest. Their only problem was that the actual final was in Bucharest.

Bucharest, Not Budapest; one of the official images of the ROM chocolate advertising campaign.

Bucharest, Not Budapest; one of the official images of the ROM chocolate advertising campaign.

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August 16 2013

Accused Nazi Concentration Camp Leader Dies Before Trial in Hungary

Top news these days among Hungarian and European netizens is the death of László Csizsik-Csatáry, one of the most wanted Nazi war criminals who died on Saturday, August 10 while awaiting trial in Hungary.

The 98-year-old Hungarian native who topped the dwindling list of surviving Nazi war crime suspects died in a hospital as his trial for allegedly sending nearly 16,000 Jews to death camps neared. The announcement of Csatáry's death was made by officials on Monday, August 12 in Budapest.

His lawyer stated that the Nazi war crime suspect died in the hospital over the weekend after contracting pneumonia. His death came as a setback for Holocaust survivors still seeking some justice.

A file that the Simon Wiesenthal Center had prepared on Csatáry implicated him in the deportation of 300 people from Kassa (Kosice) in 1941. In August 2012, the Budapest Prosecutor’s Office dropped these charges, saying Csatáry was not in Kassa at the time and lacked the rank to organize the transports. In January 2013, it was reported that Slovak police had found a witness to corroborate other charges relating to deportations of 15,700 Jews from Kassa from May 1944.

A group of Jewish men, women and children being led to a concentration camp during WW II; photo provided by by the German Federal Archives, used under Creative Commons 3.0 license.

A group of Jewish men, women and children being led to a concentration camp during WW II; photo provided by by the German Federal Archives, used under Creative Commons 3.0 license.

Hungarian authorities have said Csatáry was the chief of an internment camp for Jews in 1944 in Kosice, a Slovak city then part of Hungary, beating inmates with his bare hands and a dog whip. He had also been charged with assisting in the deportation of thousands of Jews to Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps. He denied the charges.

Csatáry was sentenced to death in absentia in Czechoslovakia in 1948 for similar war crimes. A Budapest court in July suspended the case against Csatáry citing double jeopardy, as the charges filed by Hungarian prosecutors were similar to those in his 1948 conviction. Hungarian prosecutors appealed against the decision and a ruling was pending.

Csatáry's case and his whereabouts were revealed in 2012 by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a Jewish organisation which hunts Nazis who have yet to be brought to justice.

Most netizens from around the globe couldn't hide their disappointment regarding his death.

Twitter user Richard S. said:

Political scientist Siniša Bundalo from Serbia wrote:

When I see how this Hungarian fascist #Csatáry got away with it I don't quite believe the saying “justice is slow but…”!

— Siniša Bundalo (@Sinisa_B) August 12, 2013

Jan Nemecek, a Twitter user from Slovakia, noted:

Hans Meijer, a communications advisor at Gemeente Hilversum in the Netherlands, shared the news:

Andrew Yurkovsky, a U.S. journalist covering Central and Eastern Europe, tweeted:

Another Twitter user echoed what many were saying online:

In response to the media announcement of his death, people from around the world responded with calls for justice:

@radiomitre #Csatary Well now he will face the worst of justices and without lawyers.

— jose luis lopez (@jossephuss) August 13, 2013

A year ago Csatáry's unknown location was discovered by reporters for British paper “The Sun”, who knocked on his door for statements. Csatáry's trial was scheduled to begin next month.

May 08 2013

Hungary: Government Limits FOIA Transparency Law

In an unexpected move last week, Parliamentarians in Hungary took action to change the country's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in an effort to limit the scope of data accessible to the public under the law. The Freedom of Information Act, known as Act CXII of 2011 in Hungary, is vital to the work of Hungarian journalists who cover government activity and corruption, as it obliges government agencies to make certain information about their activities available to the public either proactively or by disclosing information by responding to FOIA requests. Members of Parliament drafted and approved the amendment in record time. But it must be signed by President János Áder before it can become law.

Image by atlaszo.hu.

Image by atlaszo.hu.

Recently, the number of FOIA requests filed through the public freedom of information request service KiMitTud [Who Knows What] [hu] surpassed one thousand. The website, run by anti-corruption NGO atlatszo.hu, is a useful tool for journalists, and has inspired a group of Hungarian students as well, to start their own blog covering student government spendings using the information obtained through FOIA requests.

Advocates suspect that the amendments were made in response to a FOIA request [hu] request filed by a group of NGOs and media organizations to the Ministry for National Development and the National Tobacco Trade Non-profit Ltd on tobacco license tenders. After the April 27 announcement that the retail sale of tobacco would soon become a state monopoly, tobacco sales licenses distributed last week immediately became the subject of public discourse. The NGOs and news sites called for transparency about the tenders, arguing that the list of licensees proved that applicants with ties to Fidesz, the governing party, had better prospects of winning a license.

Index.hu [hu] reported that MP András Cser-Palkovics, a member of the governing Fidesz party and co-author of the amendment, said that the change was provoked by one particular news site, atlatszo.hu.

Index.hu suggested that news site 444.hu also may have sparked government desire to change the law. 444.hu recently filed a FOIA request for documentation of expenditures by certain factions of Parliament. 444.hu reporter Péter Erdélyi wrote [hu] that he consulted with the Assembly's staff in order to make his request reasonable, yet still, two days later, the MPs submitted the draft amendment.

On April 28, two Fidesz MPs submitted an amendment to the Freedom of Information Act aiming to restrict data accessible to public to the data monitored by two government bodies, the State Audit Office (ÁSZ) and the Government Control Office (KEHI). The amendment, among other things, allows public institutions to refuse FOIA requests if they are “excessive,” but it fails to define what would be considered an excessive freedom of information request. The amendment was passed in less than two days, through a “special urgency procedure” which takes advantage of the governing party's supermajority in Parliament that makes lawmaking “on the fly” possible.

Atlatszo.hu has posted a petition on Change.org [hu] calling on Hungarian president János Áder to withhold his signature from the amendment – according to Hungarian legislation the President's signature would make the regulation approved. In addition to the petition which has amassed over 2,000 signatures so far, examples of individual citizen initiatives also showed up. 444.hu reported [hu] that a 24-hour shop in Budapest also started a petition against the questionable procedures applied in the distribution of the licenses.

In an op-ed published on atlatszo.hu [hu] András Jóri, former Commissioner for Data Protection, wrote that the idea of this “sunshine” law was introduced by a group of constitutional lawyers in Hungary after the country's transition to democracy. Citizen movements and journalists have only been making use of these legal mechanisms since 2000. Mr. Jóri concluded that rule of law has been upheld in Hungary until now — but at this critical point, it is up to Hungarians to keep it that way.

April 25 2013

Hungarian Students Blog on Freedom of Information Requests

Hungarian grassroots student union Hallgatói Hálózat (Student Network) started a blog that curates freedom of information requests related to higher education. The blog, titled Transparent Education [hu], is using the Hungarian public freedom of information request service KiMitTud [hu] to track down the allegations of misuse of funds by university student governments. The blog's author Dániel G. Szabó was the one who sued the Faculty of Law at ELTE University in order to publicize the information on the Faculty's student government spendings. The aim of the blog is to promote the use of freedom of information requests, and to make the spending of public funds transparent at Hungarian colleges and universities.

March 11 2013

Hungarian Bloggers Take Student Union To Court

Students from the Faculty of Law at ELTE University in Hungary sued the faculty's student union after they denied a freedom of information (FOIA) request. The students wanted to know who received bonus payments from the union's monthly budget of around $3,300. They wrote on their blog ÁJK HÖK Figyelő (Faculty of Law Student Union Monitor)[hu] that the student union head unilaterally decides on bonus payments. The initiative of the law bloggers gained support of the Hungarian National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information as well, and their first court hearing [hu] attracted some 30 members of the public.

March 07 2013

Hungarian Constitution is “Not a Toy”

According to a report [hu] on Facebook page “The Constitution is Not a Toy,” some 100 protesters have occupied the Hungarian governing party's headquarters; a pro-government crowd, however, has also showed up at the scene. The protesters voiced their opposition to the planned new amendment of the Hungarian constitution, a basic law that was enacted in 2011, after Fidesz Party won with a two thirds majority in 2010, and has been at the center of heated debates in and outside the country ever since. The latest review of the amendment by the Princeton University professor Kim Lane Scheppele was published here.

March 04 2013

What is “Hungarian Music”?

Hungarian musicians signed an online petition [hu] against the restrictive definition of “Hungarian music” included in Hungary's media law, which considers only Hungarian-language productions as “Hungarian music.” The petitioners argued that the definition is not only excluding many artists from being part of the Hungarian music and culture, but is discriminatory when it comes to the application of language quotas in radio broadcasts. Radio stations have to apply a 35-percent quota of “Hungarian music” in their music shows. The regulation came into effect in July 2012 [hu].

February 26 2013

“Liberal, Jewish, Sexy”: Keeping Tabs on Hungarian Students

Last week, Hungarian TV channel Atv reported [hu] that they had obtained a list created by the official student union at one of Hungary's most renowned universities. Allegedly, the student union members at ELTE University‘s Faculty of Humanities (BTK) added offensive comments to a list of applicants to the university's freshmen camping trip, using personal information available on once the largest Hungarian social network iWiW. The leaked [hu] list was created in 2009.

A screenshot of Atv's report.

A screenshot of Atv's report.

The list contains personal information of more than 600 students, including their date of birth, address, phone number and email. It also contains many extremely offensive comments: the authors voiced their opinions, among other things, on people who liked animals, football, had Greater Hungary on their profile photos, looked attractive or unattractive, were members of the Christian or liberal organizations, attended high school with Jewish teachers or were openly gay.

In a statement [hu] on the case, the Hungarian National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information emphasized that the existence of such a list may be regarded as illegal, because personal information such as race, ethnicity, political and religious views, sexual preferences and health are subject to special protection according to the Hungarian law.

The list brought to light another problematic issue at the university's Faculty of Humanities, namely that several members of the student union were members of the far-right Jobbik party. Dávid Lakner of Teadélután blog stated [hu] that it was no news that the BTK student union also served as a way to start careers with Jobbik. Although the student union members who talked to Atlatszo.hu news site [hu] anonymously complained that it didn't matter where they were in 2009, all of them had to face accusations of being supporters of the Hungarian far right. According to a recent research [hu], 33 percent of the Hungarian university students would vote for Jobbik these days.

Péter György, head of ELTE's Institute for Art Theory and Media Studies, wrote in an op-ed piece [hu] that the listing of students brought shame on the faculty and the university, and that the faculty shares the responsibility for Jobbik's recruitment being so successful among their students. In his self-deprecating text, the university professor concluded that the decision to run a strictly apolitical faculty after 1990 led to the correctly applied academic norms in the curriculum, but failed to protect students from neo-Nazi ideas.

The student union acknowledged [hu] the existence of a database containing contact information of about 1,000 students who participated in freshmen camping trips, but denied having any collection of other data.

A source told Atlatszo.hu that lists serving discriminatory purposes were created by certain student union members, without the knowledge of the majority of those working to support the university students’ lives. The BTK student union has its own powerful elite, which includes members of Jobbik as well. Even though the existence of the list resulted in a battle at the student union in 2011, it did not come to light until now.

Another student union member accidentally learned about the en masse checking of social media profiles, but assumed that the “profiling” served as a spare time activity to some people looking for girlfriends. A meme [hu] that was started after the appearance of the list was a comment also referring to this, it said “[She] will be good for Pista”, Pista being most probably the nickname of the former student union president István Szávay, who is currently an MP from Jobbik.

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