Plus, privatization gets violent in Kosovo and a potential blow is struck against bride-kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan.by Jeremy Druker, Joshua Boissevain, Ioana Caloianu, and Nino Tsintsadze 19 October 2012
The northeastern Hungarian city of Miskolc became the scene of a debate on Roma rights on 17 October, when the far-right Jobbik party and the local Roma community held simultaneous marches, Reuters reports.
Once a thriving communist industrial center, Miskolc has suffered during the past 20 years of transition, as most of the area’s factories closed down. Moreover, its Avas housing projects have seen a mass wave of Roma immigration from the countryside, which has rankled the non-Roma tenants affected by the country’s austerity measures.
Speaking to around 3,000 protesters gathered at the Jobbik march, Gabor Vona, chairman of the party that is known for its anti-Roma rhetoric, said he “indeed wants segregation – segregation of honest and dishonest, builders and destroyers,” and that Avas was a telltale sign of “everything that eats away at the whole country, from social problems to public safety and public health issues.”
The demonstrators marched around the Avas estates carrying torches and shouting slogans like “Gypsy crime! Gypsy criminals!”
Simultaneously, 1,000 mostly Roma protesters gathered in the city center under heavy police protection to protest against Jobbik and discrimination. According to Euronews, it was one of the largest demonstrations by Hungarian Roma in recent years. Gabor Varadi, the chief of the local Roma Minority Government, told Reuters that what is needed to solve the integration problem “is a lot of social workers, not police.”
The rallies come days after the controversial visit of Jason Kenney, Canada's minister of citizenship, immigration, and multiculturalism, to Hungary. Kenney, who had previously come under fire for his proposal to cut health benefits to refugees, declared himself happy “to get a chance to listen to the Hungarian Roma community’s concerns and discuss with them the irregular migration which sees almost 95 percent of Hungarian asylum claims abandoned, withdrawn, or rejected.”
In what could turn out to be the prelude to an impassioned debate, Russian President Vladimir Putin has spoken out for the first time against school girls wearing Muslim headscarves, Radio Free Europe reports.
Putin’s comments, made on 18 October, were a reaction to a recent incident in the southern Stavropol region, where a school principal prohibited Muslim girls from wearing headscarves to school. The regional muftiat, the council of Muslim religious leaders, issued a statement earlier this week complaining that girls had been effectively banned from attending schools “in a heavily Muslim district,” as their parents refused to let them attend school without their heads covered. “The parents emphasize that in general teachers do not discriminate against the girls for their religion,” the statement said. “But they are following the instructions of higher authorities.”
According to RIA Novosti, the girls have not attended school for two weeks.
The issue is likely to continue to generate media coverage in Russia, as the muftiat said similar conflicts are going on in other Russian regions with majority-Muslim populations. Roughly 20 million of Russia’s 143 million residents are Muslim, according to RFE.
Police in Kosovo arrested more than 60 people after protesters clashed with police over the privatization of a state-run power distributor, according to Reuters.
The opposition nationalist party Vetevendosje (Self-determination), organized the rally on 17 October to try to block the signing of the deal between the Kosovo government and a Turkish business consortium to sell off the KEK Electricity Distribution and Supply (KEDS) unit of the power utility company. Officials hope the privatization of the financially troubled firm will bring in some much-needed cash for the government. As part of the deal, the consortium – made up of Turkish firms Calik Holding and Limak – agreed to keep the distributor’s 2,700 employees for at least the next three years and invest 300 million euros ($391 million) over the next 15 years.
Critics of the deal, including members of Vetevendosje, have charged the privatization process is rife with corruption and say the 26..3 million euro price tag undervalued KEDS and its assets, which provides power for 400,000 people, SETimes reports.
“Our wealth is going and all we'll be left with is EU visa liberalization and a way to leave the country, because this boat is sinking,” party leader and parliament deputy Albin Kurti told protesters, according to Reuters.
Authorities used pepper spray to disperse hundreds of demonstrators as they tried to overrun security gates and crash the signing ceremony.
At long last, opponents of bride-kidnapping, a widespread practice in Kyrgyzstan, are in for some good news: a draft bill that would sharply increase punishments for the crime could soon become law, Radio Free Europe reports.
Recent estimates cite a range of 11,500 to 16,500 girls kidnapped each year in Kyrgyzstan. The girls have often never seen their abductor previously, but threats compel them to stay and usually get married; some are raped prior to marriage, partly to shame them into staying and not returning to their families. A Human Rights Watch report from 2006 found that 60 percent to 80 percent of women in rural villages had been victims of the practice, which defenders excuse as a part of Kyrgyz tradition.
The new bill would raise the maximum sentence for kidnappers of girls under the age of 17 to 10 years in prison, while abductors of older girls or women could receive up to five years behind bars. To be passed, the bill must get through a third reading in parliament and be signed into law by the president.
Whether such increased punishments will do more than act as a deterrent is an open question. Bride kidnappers rarely face prosecution, as almost no victims report the crime to authorities, fearful of the repercussions and pressured by societal norms. Activists can at least point to one recent case. According to RFE, last month a man received the most stringent sentence yet – six years – for raping and kidnapping a 20-year-old woman who then committed suicide.
A Czech student and entrepreneur has been selling original souvenirs to tourists and homesick globetrotters. According to The Prague Post, Kirill Rudenko has been selling “100 percent BIO” canned air from Prague. For the equivalent of around $10, a customer gets 375 milliliters of air allegedly collected from Prague's most emblematic areas: 20 percent from Wenceslas Square, 20 percent from Charles Bridge, 25 percent from the Old Town Square, 15 percent from the Prague Castle, and the rest from Mala Strana and the Golden Lane.
“The idea is to offer unusual, interesting stuff instead of boring magnets and postcards,” Rudenko said of his venture, which has expanded to include air collected from other major cities such as New York, Singapore, and Paris. While his main goal is “to make people laugh and keep good memories,” Rudenko also declared his willingness “to focus on social issues” by selling a collection of cans with air from the most polluted places on Earth.
Rudenko is not the first Czech entrepreneur to use an atypical strategy for the promotion of his homeland. Petr Sourek, a Czech translator and artist, launched a "corruption" tour operator featuring examples of graft and public misconduct throughout the Czech Republic.