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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 21 2013

“Beyond Brazil”: European Journalists Wanted for Reporting Trips

Coolpolitics in Portugal announces [pt] an open call for European journalists who want to go on a reporting trip to Brazil in 2014. Twenty-one young reporters from Portugal, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, United Kingdom and Bulgaria will be selected to take part of three different groups that will cover events in Brazil, before and after the World Cup, while collaborating with Brazilian peers.

The Beyond Your World website explains the application process and the expected outcomes of this international reporting and training opportunity:

Ongoing demonstrations, the upcoming World Cup, preparations for the Olympic Games and approaching elections; 2014 is considered to be a very important year for Brazil. Consequently, many beautiful stories are out there and are waiting to be covered. Beyond Your World would likes to make a big contribution with this special project. We want to take this incredible opportunity to explore and tell stories in and from Brazil, not only by giving young journalists the chance to gain experience overseas, but also enabling them to work together with colleagues from different countries. 

Deadline for applications is on January 10, 2014. This project - a cooperation between Lokaalmondiaal and the Brazilian media organisation Canal Futura - is part of the training program Beyond Your World which “seeks to inspire and enable the next generation of journalists to cover international development issues”.

November 22 2013

Racism, the United Nations, and the Dutch Saint Nicholas Tradition

Dibujo infantil que representa a San Nicolás y Zwarte Pete. Imagen de Vera de Kok en Wikimedia Commons con licencia CC by SA 3.0

A child's painting representing Saint Nicholas and Black Pete. Image by Vera de Kok on Wikimedia Commons with license CC by SA 3.0 

The children of Belgium, The Netherlands, and other European countries wait with impatience for the arrival of Saint Nicholas on December 6 because in those countries he is responsible – like Santa Claus or the Three Wise Men – for bringing them gifts if they have behaved well. But this year, the shadow of racism hangs over this beautiful tradition.

Saint Nicholas, according to an old song, arrives from Spain in a boat, and during the entire night he runs from one house to another on his donkey accompanied by his helper, Zwarter Piet (Black Pete, in Dutch) or Père Fouettard (Father lasher, in French). This character is a young black man, represented by white people with painted black faces, wigs, and clothing like the ones used in the 16th century. Zwarte Piet is the “bad guy” that hands out coal to the children who haven't been good. However, as Alix Guillard says on her blog Me in Amsterdam [FR],

Aux Pays-Bas, alors que la sévérité envers les enfants n'est plus de mise, on n'a pas abandonné ce personnage. Mais il s'est transformé en joyeux drille sympatique qui amuse les enfants, beaucoup plus que ce vieil évèque un peu trop rigide.

In The Netherlands, although severity with children is no longer admissible, they have not abandoned the character. But he has transformed into a nice, good natured urchin who amuses the children much more than that old Bishop that is perhaps too rigid.

Diverse groups have protested for years against the way in which the tradition treats Zwarte Piet, calling it racist. The black face of Zwarte Piet, doesn't have a clear origin: there are those who say he is a Moor that arrived from Spain with Saint Nicholas, others maintain that the black face is because he enters houses through the chimney, or that it also could be a reminder of slavery in the colonies, or even the Devil himself.

This year the Dutch government received a letter from the United Nations Working Group on People of African Descent. In the letter, the group requested that the Dutch government respond to accusations of racism.

A member of the group, Verene Shepherd, a Jamaican, actually suggested in a radio interview a radical change for Saint Nicholas, as stated in Le Monde [FR]:

Verene Shepherd, componente del grupo que inició la polémica. Foto del blog de Arjen Wilbers

Verene Shepherd, member of the group that started the polemic. Photo from the blog of Arjen Wilbers. 

si j'habitais aux Pays-Bas, je m'opposerais à la Saint-Nicolas (…) Cela ne devrait pas exister au 21e siècle. C'est offensant et scandaleux. Après tout, quel est le problème avec le père Noël ? Pourquoi devriez-vous avoir deux ‘Santa Claus’ ?”

If I lived in The Netherlands, I would oppose the Saint Nicholas celebration. It should not exist in the 21st century. It is offensive and scandalous. After all, what is the problem with Father Christmas? Why do they have to have two “Santa Claus”?

In Belgium and Holland, these comments were interpreted as an illustration of complete ignorance of the Saint Nicholas tradition, considered the precursor to Santa Claus and a severe lack of respect to a very beloved tradition in those countries. Shepherd's weds provoked an authentic alluvium of reactions across the internet with messages like that of jicé on 7sur7.be [FR]:

Bravo Madame Verene Shepherd !!! . . Grace à une idiote comme vous, Marine Le Pen vient encore de prende 10 pts dans les sondages !!!

Bravo, Ms. Verene Shepherd! Thanks to an idiot like yourself, Marine Le Pen ends up winning 10 more points in the polls!

[Marine Le Pen is the french candidate of the Front National political part of the extreme right]

On Facebook, the page Pietitie [Dutch], launched on October 22, 2013 to defend the Zwarte Piet tradition, has about 2,200,000 “likes.” Peter Udo left the following comment [Dutch] on the page:

Berichtje voor de VN: Is er niet ergens een oorlog, hongersnood of genocide gaande waar jullie je beter druk om kunnen maken??

Note to the UN: Isn't there a war, famine, or genocide anywhere where your work is needed more?

San Nicolás, rodeado de sus ayudantes Zwarte Piet, saluda desde el barco que lo trae de España. Foto de 12Danny12 en Wikimedia Commons con licencia copyleft.

Saint Nicholas, surrounded by his helpers Zwarte Piete, waves from the boat that brought him from Spain. Photo by 12Danny12 on Wikimedia Commons with copyleft license. 

The debate runs the risk of dividing society and accuses the groups on the extreme left of taking political advantage. However, others have preferred to downplay the issue, and look for judicious reasons to maintain the tradition without offending anyone. The actor Erik van Muiswinkel, who has played the character for years, wrote in nrc.nl [Dutch]:

Zwarte Piet is een vrolijk relikwie uit racistische tijden, dat staat wel vast. (…)Ik vond het altijd wel mooi dat zo’n apert politiek incorrecte traditie, witte mensen die zich zwart schminken (…), in Nederland juist wel kon. (…) hij hoort bij Sint als Sancho Panza bij Don Quichot.

Zwarte Piete is a happy relic of racist times, certainly. (…) I always thought that it was fine that a tradition that is so politically incorrect as a white person with a face painted black (…) was possible in The Netherlands. (…) [Zwarte Piet] is with Saint Nicholas as Sancho Panza was with Don Quijote.

Barbara Woestenburg-Buijnsters left this comment [Dutch] on the Pietitie on Facebook:

Zwarte Piet is een schoorsteenveger en Sinterklaas is een Turk en ze wonen in Spanje en dat vieren wij in Nederland – het is gewoon het beste integratie feestje aller tijden!

Zwarte Piet is a chimney sweeper and San Nicolas is a Turk, living together in Spain, and that is what we celebrate in the Netherlands: The best celebration of integration that exists!

Meanwhile, the UN has settled the debate firmly disavowing the working group that created the controversy. Thus the Belgian representative to UNESCO, Marc Jacobs, expressed:

[Verene Shepherd] is nothing more than a consultant who has abused the UN name for her personal objectives in the media (…). The four signatories of the letter do not belong to a competent body of the UNESCO, they only used the letterhead, namely the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

January 29 2013

Maxima Zorreguieta, the Argentinian that Will Be Queen Consort of the Netherlands

With the news of Queen Beatrix of the Nehterlands abidcating from the throne, the hasthag Máxima Zorreguieta [es] became trending topic on Twitter network. Máxima, born in Argentina and marrried to Prince Willian Alexander, Prince of Orange-Nassau, would become Queen of the Netherlands.

Photo by Holger Motzkau, taken from Wikimedia Commons with attribution.

Argentinian twitters reacted promptly, such as Juan Cruz Maldonado (@Chankra_Lad), who tweeted [es]:

@Chankra_Lad: Máxima Zorreguieta sera la reina de Holanda. Tipico, los argentinos triunfando afuera de Argentina

@Chankra_Lad [es]: Máxima Zorreguieta will be Queen of the Netherlands. It's just typical, Argentinian succeed out of Argentina.

Darío Silva D'Andrea (@DariusBaires), enthusiast about royalty and its history, according to his profile on Twitter, writes [es]:

@DariusBaires: Los reyes holandeses abdican; los reyes ingleses mueren, los reyes españoles… a ellos los echan.

@DariusBaires [es]: Dutch monarchs abdicate; English monarchs die, Spanish monarchs… those are thrown out.

Federico Croce (@FedericoCroce) doesn't want to miss the Coronation and tweets that he wants to be there. Nonetheless, other Argentinian Twitter users don't agree and prefer not to celebrate Maxima's new investiture, just as Mathias Carnaghi (@MathiasCarnaghi), who writes [es]:

@MathiasCarnaghi: Festejar que Máxima Zorreguieta sea reina es seguir avalando la monarquía en el mundo. Dejen de estar al pedo [de estar ociosos] y gastar la guita de la gente!

@MathiasCarnaghi: To celebrate that Maxima Zorreguieta becomes queen is to keep on supporting monarchy around the world. Stop being lazy and spending people's money!

Also, the hashtag #Holanda [Nehterlands] became local trend.

The wedding of William and Maxima was about to dash due to the bride's father's prior role in the Argentinian military dictatorship. The blog Comer Viajar Amar [es] writes about this [es]:

El noviazgo con Máxima en 1999 y su boda por amor, que estuvo a punto de frustrarse debido al pasado del padre de la novia, hicieron del príncipe una figura muy popular.

Guillermo y Máxima, la pareja herederacontrajeron matrimonio en 2002 en la Iglesia Nueva de Ámsterdam. El padre de ella no pudo acudir por el rechazo que creó en la clase política holandesa el hecho de que hubiera ejercido un cargo público durante la última dictadura militar argentina (1976-1983), cuando se desempeñó secretario de Agricultura y Ganadería.

In 1999, Maxima's engagement and her for-love wedding, which almost got frustrated due to past of the the bride's father, made the Prince a very popular figure.

Guillermo y Máxima, the crown couple [es], got married in 2002 at the Nieuw Kerk in Amsterdam. Her father couldn't attend due to the rejection generated amolng the Dutch political class for having had a public post during the last Argentinian military dictatorship (1976-1983), when he was Secretary of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry.

Máxima earned the hearts of the Dutch people, and by April 30, 2013 the future Queen of the Netherlands is expected for her royal investiture.

January 24 2013

Parallels Between Religious and Copyright Wars

Rick Falkvinge, the founder of Pirate Party, reinterprets the wars of religion that devastated Western Europe in the XVI and XVII centuries in terms of the current struggle to control information through overbearing legislation related to copyright and freedom of expression:

The religious wars were never about religion as such. They were about who held the power of interpretation, about who controlled the knowledge and culture available to the masses. It was a war of gatekeepers of information.

January 23 2013

Mainland China's Demand on Infant Formula Milk Becomes a Global Issue

The news about anti-Chinese sentiment in Australia, Germany and the Netherlands as a result of the shortage of infant forumla milk is widely discussed in Hong Kong. Dictionary of Politically Incorrect Hong Kong Cantonese has collected the reports and the online discussion on this anti-Chinese sentiment.

January 09 2013

Brazil Debates Human Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation - Part II

[All links lead to Portuguese language pages except when otherwise noted.]

In the first article [en] covering this series we wrote about how European politics has made a favorable move to abolish prostitution as a legalized profession in the old continent. The main focus of the discussion took France’s situation into account, which together with Brazil, does not clearly criminalize or regulate prostitution.

On December 6 2012, in the French city of Bordeaux, a couple who ran a prostitution business sending young Brazilians to hotels, were condemned to three years in prison [fr]. The 13 Brazilian women, had been coerced to become prostitutes due to their dire financial situation, later had their documents confiscated, and were taken in by co-nationals living in Spain. Clients who rented rooms for four prostitutes at hotels were considered as partners in the prostitution business and were also sentenced for 3 to 4 months.

In Brazil, although the news was largely ignored, the government and media are trying to generate awareness about the seriousness of human trafficking.

A study conducted by the Ministry of Justice at the beginning of October 2012 in conjunction with the National Secretariat of Justice in Brazil (SNJ), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and governments from various nations, discovered that between 2005 and 2011 at least 337 people, the majority of whom were women, were forced to leave Brazil and become prostitutes. The states of Pernambuco, Bahia and Mato Grosso do Sul registered the highest incidence of victims. The main destinations in Europe were Switzerland (127 victims), Spain (104) and Holland (71). In these countries prostitution is regulated and allowed as any other profession.

According to the study, the age of the victims ranged from 10 to 29 years of age, victims were single and had a low level of education and income. The recruitment process and trafficking were mainly run by women while men were responsible for monitoring the organizations’ activities.

A video produced by journalists Rafael Marcante, Julien Manfrin, Vagner Krazt, Margareth Andrade and Thiago Correia reports on the process:

This scene was chosen from the Brazilian soap opera “Salve Jorge” by writer and director Gloria Perez. The soap aims at generating awareness about international human trafficking by telling stories of the victims. Gloria Perez stated:

O tráfico de pessoas é um problema mundial e uma das formas mais rentáveis da criminalidade. Ainda assim, tem permanecido invisível e é tido como lenda urbana.

The trafficking of human beings is a global problem and one of the most lucrative means of criminality. Despite this, the problem has remained invisible and perceived as a urban legend.

In an article entitled “Hypocrisy foments the trafficking of women” journalist Bruno Astuto comments:

Existem duas realidades no tráfico de mulheres para fins de exploração sexual. Na primeira, são moças enganadas por uma esperta rede de traficantes, que lhes promete empregos de garçonete, balconista ou dançarina no exterior […]. A outra realidade é a das moças que partem para o exterior sabendo que vão se prostituir.[…] Com Salve Jorge, esse silêncio será rompido, expondo à sociedade brasileira um crime que acontece tão ordinariamente sob suas narinas, mas que, pela hipocrisia com que se abordam a prostituição e a exploração sexual no país, foi colocado para baixo do tapete como se ele não existisse ou como ele se fosse descaramento de mulher da vida.

There are two realities in the trafficking of women for purposes of sexual exploitation. The first is the reality of women tricked by an expert in the trafficking scheme who promises them jobs as waitresses, shop keepers or dancers abroad […]. The other reality is that of women who travel abroad with the intent of prostituting themselves […]. With Salve Jorge, this silence has been broken, exposing the Brazilian society to a crime that takes place under its own nose, but has been ignored due to the hypocritical manner in which society looks at prostitution and sexual exploitation, as if it did not exist or as if the women in question were blameworthy.

Laws to Fight Human Trafficking

The Second International Symposium to Fight Human Trafficking took place at the end of October in the Federal Regional Tribunal of the Third Region in São Paulo.

CNJ Campaign

CNJ Campaign

The president of the Commission to Access Justice and Citizenship of the National Council of Justice (CNJ), Ney Freitas, emphasized the inefficiency of Brazilian institutions in fighting  human trafficking:

É necessário motivar a operação legislativa para que seja proposta uma norma mais severa que sancione com mais gravidade esse tipo de crime.

It is necessary to motivate the legislature to promote more severe norms that sanction this type of crime.

Brazilian legislation condemns the trafficking of women for  sexual exploitation but it does not include men and children in its legal definition nor does it include exploitation in other types of activities. Senator Lidice da Mata (PSB-BA) has formulated a law proposition to criminalize all kinds of human trafficking. A petition [pt] issued on October 18, aims at gathering popular support for the law so that it can be submitted for approval.

Journalist Priscila Siqueira fights against the sexual exploitation of women by stressing the importance of grasping the victims’ trauma:

A mulher escravizada é reduzida a uma mercadoria. Ela precisa de ajuda para se reestruturar e de alternativas para se profissionalizar, ter uma ocupação e não voltar para a malha do tráfico.

An enslaved woman is reduced to the status of merchandise. She needs help to recover from this, to create alternatives and to build a profession, an occupation that will free her from the grasp of traffickers.

In regards to the international day against sexual exploitation and the trafficking of women and children, on September 23, the blog Coletivo Rosas de Liberdade wrote:

Frente a uma tragédia exposta (digna de ser lembrada em calendário), com raízes tão profundas, devemos denunciar essa situação criminosa e altamente violadora de direitos e exigir dos órgãos responsáveis pela promoção e efetivação dos Direitos Humanos a maior seriedade no combate a esse tipo de crime. Mas, além disso, denunciar essa estrutura social que coisifica seres humanos e explora inclusive sua dignidade.

When faced by this deeply rooted tragedy (worthy of being remembered on the calendar), we must denounce this criminal situation that violates rights and must demand that the responsible bodies for the promotion and effectiveness of Human Rights seriously fight this kind of crime. Besides this, we must denounce the social structure that objectifies human beings and exploits their dignity.

In Brazil, the lack of distinction between the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents, the trafficking of women and voluntary prostitution abroad are also criticized. Anthropology Professor Thaddeus Gregory Blanchette, from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), criticizes the popular view of the “typical trafficked women” in the Bule Voador Blog: it is impossible to affirm that every prostitute in Europe is a victim of human trafficking.

Online prevention initiatives

The Ford Models Agency published a video called “Work Abroad Orientation” from the Ministry of External Relations:

Blogger Daniela Alves updates her site daily with data on the trafficking of humans as a means of reflecting and informing those who work on preventing the trafficking of human beings.

Brazilian NGO Repórter Brasil coordinates a program “Escravo, nem pensar!” with the mission of spreading knowledge about human trafficking. With the support of Mato Grosso’s Public Ministry, the NGO has edited material [pdf] that covers human trafficking to be discussed in classrooms.

CNJ campaign image on Facebook

CNJ campaign image on Facebook

The Bridge project has published on its facebook page information regarding a 180 national hotline in Brazil that gives advice against the abuse of women (just dial 180, it is free and confidential). The program deals with calls denouncing violence, including calls that denounce the trafficking of women, besides giving orientation about one’s rights:

Levantamento da Secretaria de Políticas para as Mulheres (SPM) indica que, de janeiro a outubro deste ano [2012], o Ligue 180 recebeu 62 ligações procedentes sobre [o tráfico internacional de mulheres], das quais 34% vindas da Espanha, 34% da Itália e 24% de Portugal.

A study conducted by the Secretariat for Women’s Policies (SPM) shows that from January to October [2012] the 180 Number received 62 calls connected to international trafficking of women, of which 34% originated from Spain, 34% from Italy and 24% from Portugal.

October 29 2012

Asylum Seekers Tent Camp in The Netherlands

Entrance to refugee camp

Entrance to refugee camp in Amsterdam. Photo by Bloggers without Borders (used with permission)

(more…)

September 05 2012

Bulgaria: Independent Journalists Demand EU Intervention

A group of Bulgarian NGOs and individual journalists issued an open letter [bg, en] to Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission, asking for a public meeting because “the situation of the media in Bulgaria is a threat not only for the Bulgarian society, but for the EU as a whole.”

August 28 2012

Ukraine: Striving for Unguarded EU Borders

“We are Europeans” grassroots initiative (whose launch GV covered in Oct. 2011) re-posted on its Facebook page a photo collage [en] comparing the Iraq-Syria and the Netherlands-Belgium borders: the former is heavily guarded, the latter is just a line outside a street café.

Eugen Theise commented [en]:

Why Iraq and Syria? EU and Ukraine - same shit, but in Europe :(

Karina Babenko added [ru]:

I want Ukraine to have the same border with the European Union as the one between Holland and Belgium!

August 04 2012

Europe: Dutch Designer Tells Visual Stories on the Crisis

Portuguese journalist Ana Maria Henriques interviews [pt] Noortje van Eekelen (@spectragedy) the Dutch designer who created The Spectacle of the Tragedy, a blog that “tells a visual story about the politicians that navigate the Euro crisis.”

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

April 26 2012

Why I've made public the films of my kids growing up | Frans Hofmeester

Time-lapse videos of my children Lotte and Vince have received global attention – to me they carry an important message

I started filming my daughter Lotte as a newborn in 1999, every week, usually on a Saturday morning. After 12 years of filming her, and nine years of doing the same with her brother Vince, I turned the footage into the two films you see today. While I always had the feeling that this project was special and that it deserved a wider audience, I never dreamed that it would get this kind of exposure. The attention has been overwhelming: my daughter's film has been on CNN and Jay Leno, I'm fielding numerous interview requests, and the story was on the front page of an Australian newspaper this morning. It's crazy, and a little intimidating. I'm getting four hours of sleep a night and am running off adrenaline. It's strange for the children, who are used to being behind the camera, to suddenly see themselves on television.

Why did I decide to do the project? When Lotte was born, she was changing at such a rapid pace, and I was desperate to keep the memories intact. As any parent knows, the difference between a child at two days old and two months old is startling. When Vince was born, I started filming him too. Other people might make a photo book, but I decided to film. This is the most photographed and filmed generation ever, but what are we actually doing with these pictures? They just sit in a file on the computer. I wanted to try and convey the essence of my children, of how they look to me. We don't often look at the photographs we take, not in the same way that an artist would look at his paintings.

During the period that I filmed them, they didn't know how special it would be. I've discussed the film with them, and Lotte is a little intimidated. Looking at yourself is very strange. Lotte's video has been viewed more than Vince's, probably because she is a girl, because she's older, female. There is more scrutiny of girls. Her video is very sweet. Vince's is more playful, he's pulling faces, sticking his tongue out, being this cute little boy who won't do what daddy says when he's in front of the camera. I love it. One of the reasons that the project has had such an impact, I think, is because it's very moving. People are touched by it because it conveys a feeling of the soul. They've written to me about their own children. The film makes you realise what life is about, in a direct way. There have been other time-lapse films using photographs, but this conveys much more of an idea of the individual, of their personality.

The video is a short cut of a longer film than runs to 30 minutes, in which you hear Lotte talking. It's much more personal. Putting the film together has taken discipline – my alarm is always set for Saturday morning. Sometimes the children wouldn't want to be filmed, and then I'd try to stimulate them. Each week it gave me the opportunity to talk to my kids, to get to know their likes and dislikes. I'd say: "Tell me what you did last week, what you did at school. Tell me about the nicest thing that happened, or the saddest thing." The film in which Lotte talks is too personal, too intense for the internet. It reveals too much. It would work well in a gallery setting, where you can sit on a bench watching, getting to know her.

I think the reception has been so strong because the film speaks to people. It carries a message about living your life, and enjoying every moment of having your children with you. Being the best parent you can be. Don't forget how they once were, how they once looked. I was so afraid that I'd forget how they look. Now I never will. And I'll keep filming, of course.

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March 15 2012

Macedonia: Fuel Prices Continue to Rise

Continuous increase of fuel prices is a cause of much concern for citizens of Macedonia, and some vent the tension through humor. The prices are set by a regulatory body, and more and more social media users object to the fact that the lion's share of the revenue in fact goes to the government, stymieing the growth of the business sector.

On his blog, Zoriv published comparisons of the prices of oil derivatives in Macedonia, the USA and the EU [mk], and also calculated how much fuel one can buy on an average salary in various countries [mk]. (Both posts are in Macedonian, but the tables with country comparisons are in English and easily comprehensible.)

So, according to Zoriv, Latvia has the lowest price of gasoline in Europe (EUR 1.20), while Norway has the highest (EUR 1.94). Consumers in Macedonia have to pay EUR 1.4. While the official explanation for rising fuel prices is always the change of price of crude oil, Zoriv points out that a major factor in forming the end price are the excise taxes that go directly to the state budgets in countries with the highest prices (Norway, Holland, Italy, the UK, and Greece). He adds:

In Macedonia, for instance, the total taxation together with the profit margin for the merchants form around 70% of the price (Official Gazette of Republic of Macedonia, no. 138/09 and 52/11). The difference between Macedonia and the EU countries, alongside the salary levels which are incomparable, is the tragic fact that even the slightest increase of oil derivative prices affects the personal material existence of every citizen of Macedonia. The latest data show that fuel consumption has decreased by 30% [mk]. The increase of fuel prices leads to a spiral of the increase of all other living expenses, while family budgets drastically decrease.

The Macedonian government temporarily abolished the excise before the June 2011 elections, but returned it later, raising the prices [mk] in August.

By calculating how much fuel a citizen can buy with an average salary, Zoriv tried to shed light on income disparities: in the United States, one can buy 4,296 liters of gasoline on an average monthly salary. In Europe, the top spots go to Switzerland (3,441 l), Luxemburg (3,439 l), and Germany (3.075 l). The lowest on the list are Macedonia (243 l) and Albania (194 l), with a “disastrous ratio of 1:14″ compared to the leading “rich” countries.

According to the 2010 edition of the annual publication 200 Largest Companies in Macedonia, prepared and published by the Euro Business Center – Skopje, the two largest companies in the country are: the sole oil refinery OKTA (owned by the Greek interests, privatized while the current PM Gruevski served as the Minister of Finance) and the biggest oil derivatives distributor Makpetrol, with the total revenues of EUR 512 million and EUR 350 million, respectively.

The prospects for the future seem bleak. According to the UNDP report “Assessing the Economic Impact of Climate Change,” Macedonia also faces numerous other challenges in the energy sector.

Social media users shared various kinds of data related to the fuel price increase, such as the table [mk] showing the elements that form the prices of fuel:

Elements of fuel prices in Macedonian Denars.

They also posted various reactions to ongoing developments with the fuel prices, and the most shared were the humorous responses, such as this joke: “Would you like to take your girlfriend someplace expensive? - Take her to a gas station!” The latest chuckle is a demotivation-style meme featuring the late Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito and a supposed laconic quote in Croatian:

Tito advises on gasoline

Photo of Tito and a supposed quote: You say the gasoline got more expensive? Well, why don't you make a deal with the Non-Aligned countries?

During the Cold War, Tito was famous for striking a balance between Eastern and Western blocs, with Yugoslavia serving as a kind of a buffer, to the commercial benefit of its people. In 1961, he co-founded the Non-Aligned Movement, which included many oil-producing nations, resulting in favorable trade relations. A famous political-economic quote attributed to him (in the Lexicon of Yugoslav Mythology) is this: “The grain that we received from the Americans is much superior in quality to the grain the Soviets did not deliver.”

March 14 2012

Europe: Will ACTA Treaty Pass After Protests?

[All links forward to French articles unless stated otherwise.]

As of the end of the month of February 2012, the mobilization efforts of Internet users against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) [en] were still going strong. In fact, they may have begun to bear fruit.

By including infringements against the author's rights in its scope, this international treaty, which addresses intellectual property rights, also affects Internet content.

The ratification debates which were placed on the European Parliament's agenda on February 29, were put on hold in expectation of the opinion of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The issue of the treaty's conformity with European Community law was brought before the court on 22 February by the European Commission.

No ACTA - Strasbourg. Photo by Christophe Kaiser on Flickr, CC-license-BY

No ACTA - Strasbourg. Photo by Christophe Kaiser on Flickr, CC-license-BY

Taurillon, the “magazine of young Europeans -France” describes “Europe's about-face on ACTA“:

Si l’avis est négatif, l’ACTA n’a plus aucune chance en Europe. Mais en cas d’avis positif, le recours à la CJUE représente le double avantage de redonner au traité une certaine crédibilité, et de repousser son adoption à une époque suffisamment lointaine pour que la polémique se soit tassée et que l’opinion publique regarde ailleurs.

If the opinion is negative, ACTA no longer stands a chance in Europe. However, if there is a positive opinion, appealing to the ECJ would mean a double advantage by giving the treaty a certain credibility, and also pushing back implementation to a time that is far enough away when public debate has settled down and the public's attention is focused elsewhere.

Jérémie Zimmermann, co-founder and spokesperson for la Quadrature du Net urges on the European deputies:

Les eurodéputés doivent résister à la stratégie de la Commission européenne, qui cherche à gagner du temps et à transformer le débat en une simple discussion juridique, et pour cela continuer à travailler au rejet d’ACTA. ACTA vise à imposer une tendance pour une politique globale du droit d’auteur qui est toxique pour l’Internet libre et pour les libertés. Le Parlement européen est le dernier rempart : il doit agir et adopter une position claire et forte, faute de quoi il laissera le champ libre à la Commission pour imposer une répression inacceptable.

The Eurodeputies must resist the European Commission's strategy of attempting to gain time and turning the debate into a simple legal discussion, thereby continuing to work towards ACTA's rejection. ACTA aims to impose a tendency for a global policy of author's rights that is toxic for the free Internet and for freedom. The European Parliament is the last line of defense: it must act and adopt a firm and clear position, otherwise it will leave the field wide open for the commission to impose an unacceptable repression.

For trucbuntu, there is no question of remaining passive while waiting for the Court to adjudicate:

Les citoyens de toute l’Europe peuvent contacter leurs représentants dans les commissions Commerce International (INTA) et Industrie (ITRE), qui se réunissent cette semaine pour discuter d’ACTA, et leur demander de continuer à travailler au sein de leur commission pour le rejet d’ACTA.

Citizens of all of Europe were able to contact their representatives in the International Trade (INTA) and Industry (ITRE) Committees, who met on February 29 to discuss ACTA. Many citizens requested their representatives to reject the proposal.

The website of the European Parliament explains the procedure and the issues of the treaty [en] that are under scrutiny, and has published ‘What you should know about ACTA‘ [en], a page of questions and answers. The ACTA workshop of the European Parliament has been the object of a storify [en] made by the Parliamentary services (link via Global Voices contributor Asteris Masouras [en]).

The organization AVAAZ submitted a petition to the European Parliament on 29 February with 2.4 million signatures against ACTA. The petition is still open:

Nous sommes vraiment proches de la victoire — notre pétition forte de 2,4 millions de signatures a ébranlé les responsables politiques partout en Europe et stoppé les censeurs. La Commission européenne est à présent en position de faiblesse et espère que la Cour de justice donnera son feu vert au traité ACTA en lui soumettant une question juridique très limitée qui recevra certainement une réponse positive.Mais si nous faisons résonner nos voix aujourd'hui, nous pouvons faire en sorte que la Cour examine tous les impacts légaux du traité ACTA et publie un avis qui fera toute la lumière sur cette attaque contre nos droits qu'est ACTA.

We are really close to victory — our petition, with 2.4 million signatures has shaken up those politicians in charge throughout Europe and stopped their censors. The European Commission is currently in a position of weakness and is hoping the Court of justice will green light the ACTA treaty by bringing before the court a very limited legal question, that will without doubt receive a positive response. But if we make our voices heard today, we will be able to get the court to examine all the legal implications of ACTA and publish an opinion that will bring to light the real attack against our rights that is ACTA.
No ACTA - Strasbourg. Photo Christophe Kaiser on Flickr, CC-license-BY

No ACTA - Strasbourg. Photo Christophe Kaiser on Flickr, CC-license-BY

Anti-ACTA parties continue to  strengthen their resources. New protests were set for 10 March, and torrentnews gives a list, with this appeal:

La liste n’est pas exhaustive, n’hésitez pas à nous contacter pour la compléter ;)

si certains se sentent l’âme d’un reporter- photographe en herbe, nous recherchons également des personnes pour faire un petit article photo du déroulement de la manif, rien de bien compliqué, comme fait ici pour Nice, Marseille,Bordeaux et Strasbourg.

The list is not exhaustive, do not hesitate to contact us to complete it ;)

If any individuals see themselves as budding photojournalists we are also looking for people to do a small photo story on how the protest unfolds, nothing too complicated, as it happens in Nice, Marseille, Bordeaux, and Strasbourg.

For details on the elements of the debate, see also these linked articles from the Tribune on February 29, and Myeurop, on March 3. On Global Voices, see the laws SOPA/PIPA that set a precedent in the USA, here [en] and here [en]. Since the beginning of the protests, ACTA seems to have lost a lot of political momentum.

The title of this post is inspired by the end of the article “La liberté sur Internet : le filtrage de la discorde” which was published by the Institute of Research and Legal and Information studies and Communication (I.R.E.D.I.C.). It puts into perspective Internet blocking and debates the adoption of ACTA.

The original article in French was published on March 4. For background on the ACTA proposal, more articles can be found here [en].

March 13 2012

Video: Share Your Challenges and Win an iPad on Future Challenges Contest

The Bertelsmann Foundation's FutureChallenges initiative wants to hear about the challenges faced by people all around the world. By making a video and uploading it to their Facebook page, you could win a new iPad2.

Future Challenges focuses on finding the ways different global trends relate to each other in different regional contexts. Through articles and Local Views from countries all around the world, writers delve into how topics like climate change, demographic change, natural resources and biodiversity, health, security and Anti/Terror Policy, education, globalization, migration, new governance and technology affect each other and impact communities.

From the contest's terms and conditions:

With its ‘FutureChallenger’ Facebook campaign, FutureChallenges wants to give interested people the opportunity to present their own views about what challenges the future will bring.

The international competition starts out with the aim of giving different people from different cultural backgrounds and disciplines the chance to submit a powerful video that will help raise awareness about the issues they feel strongly about.

The deadline for the videos is March 22nd, when voting will commence on selected videos to choose the winner.

Joh Correia, a singer from the Banda Quero in Brazil puts forth her challenge for the future in this subtitled video:

Adnane Addioui in Morocco believes that the challenge is in making people care and take responsibility for issues:

Rapper Ty Phoon in the Netherlands believes that privacy and control of our online footprint is a challenge:

What do YOU think are the future challenges? Make a video and submit it through the Future Challenges Facebook page and win an iPad2!

March 05 2012

November 21 2011

The Netherlands: A Holiday Season of Festivities, Costumes… and Racism?

Zwarte Piets in The Hague, The Netherlands

Zwarte Piets in The Hague, The Netherlands, November 2010, by Gerard Stolk (CC-BY-NC)

In the winter season in The Netherlands and Belgium a character named Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) accompanies Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas, the original inspiration for Santa Claus) for a yearly feast that is celebrated on the evening of December 5th or morning of December 6th with sweets and presents for all good children. This traditional holiday rivals Christmas in importance.

In recent years the role of Zwarte Piet has become part of a recurring debate in The Netherlands as some citizens take offense at holiday costumes with black painted faces. The story goes that the companions of Saint Nicholas are Moors who help carry the presents brought to children when he arrives by boat from Spain.

The tradition continues to be popular, though some have been moved to protest against what they see as racist imagery. On November 12, 2011 a protester wearing a t-shirt that said ‘Zwarte Piet is racisme’ (Black Pete is racism) were arrested in Dordrecht amidst accusations of police brutality. The t-shirt campaign has its own Tumblr blog with photos and a Facebook page with more than 800 followers.

The blogger at Stuff Dutch People Like wrote in 2010 about the tradition of Zwarte Piet:

You know it’s that time of the year again in Holland, when you are greeted by some Dutch person on the street, whose face is painted completely black and is sporting an afro wig, bright red lips and a ridiculous clown-like costume.

Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet

Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet, The Hague, The Netherlands, November 2008, by Zemistor (CC-BY-ND)

Dutch graffiti artist and blogger BNE posts some photos of Zwarte Piet, and asks: Is The Dutch Holiday Of Sinterklaas’s Tradition Of “Black Pete” Racist?:

This “tradition” has evolved throughout the years, partially due to increasing protests from groups that find these depictions offensive. Nowadays, it is claimed that the Black face is due to the fact that the helpers have gone through chimneys and as a result, their faces are covered in soot. What again, nobody can clearly explain, is what kind of soot leaves such a uniform and evenly spread residue. Or worse, why these “chimney dwellers” speak in a fake accent that parodies the Black population of the Dutch former colony of Suriname.

Anthropologist and blogger Martijn de Koning of CLOSER explains in Jolly Black Servant – Tradition and Racism in the Netherlands:

I dont expect a change in this tradition very soon. It should be clear however that Black Pete is a construction, and invention that has already changed in history. The current tradition has lost many of negative connotations which is partly positive but the negative side is that this makes the racism more hidden. Nevertheless, I think this Dutch tradition lends itself perfectly for teaching young children about racism, colonialism and religion throughout history. Maybe that would be a starting point for some change in the future?

On travel website Off Track Planet, Anna Starostinetskaya gives this answer to the question, What the F*ck is Zwarte Piet?:

So is Pete a children’s tale or a racist figure? We promise no definitive answer exists. We’re not saying this tradition is not objectifying black people in a racist way and it is understandable that Americans have the strongest feelings on the topic because Zwarte Piet is visually too close to what our racist roots look like. But Americans must also realize that our own history drives us to apply what we know about our own racist past on traditions that may not have anything in common but black face paint. Although it may be racist in some way, we cannot just superimpose our own racist history atop another country’s tradition and say it’s the same. Either way, we hope a happy medium exists that doesn’t involve smurfs, midgets or complete Americanization of world traditions.

Sinterklaas arrives by boat in Arnhem

Sinterklaas arrives by boat in Arnhem, November 2011, by Bas Boerman (CC-BY-NC)

On the blog Tiger Beatdown, beneath Flavia’s post “If you protest racism during Black Face season in The Netherlands, you will be beaten up and arrested” a comment by Elfe echoes the above:

I read your post because I needed to understand why I do not find this tradition racist …The “slaves” or “helpers” are you refer to them are not ridicule: these are pages not clowns and they are wearing nice clothes, they are not parading around half naked with a bone across their nostrils like some savages (or like Josephine Baker and her banana skirt). … Like “Tintin in the Congo” the Zwarte Piets are a reminder of the past. … I know it is very insulting for Blacks in America to see White people with their face painted in black (but it took me to live in the US to understand why: a period when black were not even allowed to play their own role in theater). …Like the rappers who have decided to own the N word we can just ignore this tradition if it annoys us, personally I could not care less. Being African I don’t see the Zwarte Piets as Blacks (they don’t look like me or like any African I know) … To feel insulted by them you really need to have a really poor self-esteem. Sorry for being politically incorrect…

November 09 2011

Global: Replacing Moreno Ocampo at the International Criminal Court

Luis Moreno Ocampo's term as the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is coming to an end. The elections for judges are scheduled for the tenth session of the Assembly of States Parties at United Nations Headquarters from the 12-21 December, 2011.

So who might end up replacing Luis Moreno Ocampo as Chief Prosecutor of the ICC? As of the time of writing, the frontrunner is the Deputy Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda of Gambia.

Other candidates include:

… Andrew Cayley, a co-prosecutor at the Khmer Rouge tribunal in Cambodia who comes from Britain; Tanzania's Chief Justice Mohamed Chande Othman; and Robert Petit, a counsel at the crimes against humanity and war crimes section of Canada's Justice Department.

The ECCC court room on 20 July 2009 during testimony of former Khmer Rouge prison guard Him Huy. Courtesy of Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.

The ECCC court room on 20 July 2009 during testimony of former Khmer Rouge prison guard Him Huy. Courtesy of Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.

“Any of those four would be an improvement,” Joshua Rozenberg of the BBC's Law in Action writes in response to a query from the author:

@JoshuaRozenberg@efleischer Any of those four would be an improvement. Come to think of it, anyone would be better.

Almost in counterpoint to Rozenberg’s disapproval however, is Bensouda herself. In an interview with The Global Observatory, she stresses the idea of letting the court be the court:

I think one of the strongest arguments to make about not amending or changing anything is, at least let the court go into full cycle, let it try and test all the parts of the statute that we will be dealing with, before you want to amend it.

In reaching out to the online community specifically interested in the International Criminal Court, Jesse Loncraine of IJ Central, an activist organization created by Skylight Pictureswrote that:

If Bensouda takes over, expect a victim driven approach.

And the idea of this ‘victim driven’ approach manifests itself at least within the interview with The Global Observatory:

You should also take note that the ICC is the first international criminal court created that also took into account victim participation. Most of it was as a result of what happened in the ad-hoc tribunals and how the victims felt so helpless, that they are just passive subjects, they are used as witnesses but when it comes to them participating, having their views and concerns, and at the end of the day seeking reparations, it did not happen. It is happening at the ICC. Again, I give examples of the trials that have taken place so far and how the victims have been very active subjects in those trials.

[…]

It is not the work of the Office of the Prosecutor, of course, to deal with reparations. It is the judges, and they will decide how they want to decide, and the trust fund for victims will take it up from there. But what we have been doing at the level of the Office of the Prosecutor is see how we can connect situations that can help each other.

Global Voices has previously reported on efforts to bring the British-born Prime Minister of Thailand to the International Criminal Court, Kenyans organizing to show support for the ICC (or texting their votes to save a suspect), the Sudanese blogosphere reacting to the arrest warrant issued against Omar al-Bashir (as well as here), African bloggers reacting to Karadžić’s arrest, the trial of Charles Taylor at the ICJ and more.

One of the issues in dealing with a global institution is to begin to work towards building a global conversation around it; in taking a step back and in reply to being queried as to what he thinks about the court, Ahron Young, the Melbourne Bureau Chief for Sky News, writes:

I agree that people in corrupt countries need to do something and the ICC offers at least some hope that something can be done.

Jahanzaib Haque, web editor for The Express Tribune, writes:

I don't have a strong opinion about the ICC, but I am a believer in justice without borders, and the ICC is a (flawed) necessary step in the right direction towards a unified, cosmopolitan existence for all.

September 20 2011

X-ray vision reveals secret Goya

Earlier work found under artist's 1823 portrait of Madrid judge Don Ramón Satué may depict Napoleon Bonaparte's brother

• Interactive: see how one portrait covered the other

Beneath a Goya masterpiece, a second, hidden painting by the Spanish painter has been discovered, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has announced.

New technology has brought the image to light for the first time since Goya painted over it, apparently for political reasons.

Curators were aware of something beneath the surface of Goya's powerful 1823 portrait of Don Ramón Satué, a judge in the supreme court in Madrid, but it was so faint they could not decipher details, let alone the composition.

High-intensity x-ray technology developed by Joris Dik of Delft University and Koen Janssens of Antwerp University means that the painting can be seen for the first time in great detail. It is thought to be of a French general or even Joseph Bonaparte, who was briefly king of Spain and brother of Napoleon. Everything from the brushwork to the precise medals worn on the sitter's uniform can be seen.

Dik told the Guardian the technology allowed his team "to visualise" a Goya painting that had not been seen before: "It is exciting." Scanning macro x-ray fluorescence spectrometry technology – in which fluorescent x-rays map the picture's pigments to create a colour image of it – was first tried out two years ago on a Van Gogh painting. It revealed his previously unknown portrait of a peasant woman, which the artist painted over with the 1887 work Patch of Grass.

This time, however, thetechnology has been developed further in a mobile version that can be used in museums on paintings that are too delicate to be moved.

The potential for uncovering unknown works of art is enormous as so many artists reused canvases, usually to save money or to conceal an earlier work with which they were dissatisfied.

Dik said the medals worn by the sitter can be identified as linked to an order created by Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon's brother, during his short reign as king of Spain, from 1808 to 1813.

The portrait probably dates from between 1809 and 1813. However, having a painting associated with Bonaparte after the Napoleonic forces had withdrawn from Spain would not have gone down well. Dik said: "Goya, we know, managed to survive both political situations – the transfer of Spain to the French and back to Spain … After 1820, [such a portrait] could have been dangerous. That's when we believe the portrait was overpainted with the figure we can see now, as that painting dates from 1823."

It was during the Napoleonic wars that Francisco de Goya (1746-1828) created masterpieces such as his Disasters of War etchings, in which he responded to the occupying French army's atrocities.


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July 02 2011

Netherlands: Hustling a Creative Job Through Twitter

A creative team in Amsterdam, Bas van de Poel and Daan van Dam, show us on this video how they used the twitter microblogging site to catch the attention of creative directors and land themselves a job in an advertising agency.

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