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Bulgaria: Anti-Roma protests echo Czech events

Anti-Roma protests in Varnsdorf, Czech Republic

Localised grassroots anti-Roma protests seen in the Czech Republic now seem to be repreated on a somewhat larger scale in Bulgaria: the Novinite agency is reporting clashes between riot police and a crowd of 3000 in the city of Plovdiv resulting in mass arrests with similar confrontations having taken place in the past few couple of days in Varna, Blagoevgrad and Sofia. 

The sequence of events in both countries seems very similar: a violent incident between local Roma and members ethnic majority triggers large-ish scale local protests of hundreds or thousand, sometimes initially peaceful but quickly becoming more unpredictable,  more spontaneous  – Facebook is mentioned in the reports on Bulgaria – and more aggressive, targeting Roma property, local authorities and the police.

The crowds are mostly, but not exlusively young, and mainly male and, unusually, the protests spread. Far right groups are involved and the protests have clearly nationalist flavor with national flags – as well as  predictable  stuff about  Roma crime etc – on display in reports from both states, but there also a  sense of a kind grassroots ‘social movememt’ feel to what seems to be going on, the mobilisation of uncivil society, if you will.  Bulgaria’s far-right party Ataka, for example, seems to have been caught on the hop with calls for emergency measures and hurring to organise its own party-controlled anti-Roma protests.

The question, of course, is why given high and consistent levels of anti-Roma racism in the CEE; huge levels of social exclusion and  the  often dire state of relations between Roma and majority groups, is why such protests have erupted now?  An easy answer , perhaps  rather too easy, is that it is a yet another symptom of the new Europan politics of  Hard Times we seem to be drifting into, a mixture of fear and boredom: an ethnicised East Central  European version of the frustrations and tensions we saw break out on the streets of England cities last month.  Roma are among the socially and most economically vulnerable to price rises, welfare cuts and austerity, but they offer a convenient focus for the frustrations of others feeling the social and economic fallout at first hand.

The Czech news magazine Respekt carries a profile of a young woman, Lenka Zenkerová , arrested during an anti-Roma protest last month for wearing a t-shirt with the home-penned slogan ‘Bring Back Hitler, Gas the Gypsies’.  Such blatant incitement to racial hatred is a crime- triggers action even in the Czech Republic, where anti-racism laws can be somewhat unevenly enforced. Most protesters were savvy enough to frame their sentiments – at least in writing – in terms of crime and social security, rather than repeat this  widely seen Czech skinhead grafitto of 1990s.

Source: Political Capital www.riskandforecast.com

In the profile Ms Zenkerová comes across as odd, but not that odd. Educationally  an average achiever, cut off from her parents in the way some people are. A  few stints at menial jobs, but she can’t stand them or does stick.  Little  money – minimal social security and the odd family handout or bit of internet-based work. Feels bored and trapped in a small town.

The  anti-Roma protests seem for her to be  source of excitement, empowermant and  minor celebrity.

Perhaps in this country she would have just helped trash the local branch of Dixons.  I guess that’s what makes us an advanced democracy.

In CEE, of course, with its weaker parties and institutions  more generally discontented and distrustful citizenry, you have to ask where it will all lead. Whether it will find stronger political expression or just be one of numerous poisonous undercurrents running beneath the region’s social and political development.  Bulgaria came third in the DEREX index of far-right electoral potential put together by the Budapest-based Political Capital Thinktank last year – Turkey and Hungary came top with the Czech Republic mid-table a mere 11th.

As noted in the previous post, far right parties may not ultimately be the big story politically, we darkly image, but  it will interesting , indeed necessary for once to watch  the small town and regional grassroots for  once.

>Lithuania: Anti-gay laws highlight CEE states moving apart on social issues

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Lithuania’s Gay League have sent me and various other specialists working on Central and Eastern politics a press release highlighting forthcoming illiberal legislation in Lithuania against the propogation of homosexuality asking that it be widelty circulated. I am more than happy
to reproduce it below.

For British readers old enough to remember the 1980s this has some echoes of the the (now repealed)Clause 28 legilsation passed by Mrs Thatcher’s government which banned the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in school (although the bill reported below seems much more wide-ranging) and this perhaps gives a clue how to interpret it from a more academic, political
science perspective, giving that ‘Thatcherism’ had a strong ‘authoritarian populist’ elements

Lithianian developments seems to fit into a wider pattern of growing illiberal populism – and illiberal legislation concerning gender and sexuality – which seems to a feature of politics in some countries in the region (Poland, Latvia and Lithuania). Meanwhile, others parts of CEE have bumped along with a slow process of social liberalization: the Czech Republic and Slovenia have even got round to legalizing civil partnerships, although God forbid that you should want to propagate totalitarianism (legally banned in the CR) or question Slovenia’s claims to its maritme border (currently blocking Croatia’s accession to the EU).

“LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT TAKES FURTHER STEPS TOWARDS THE CRIMINALIZATION OF HOMOSEXUALITY

Press release by Lithuanian gay league (LGL)
July 10, 2009

The Seimas, which earlier rejected amendments criminalizing propagation of homosexuality, this Thursday took another step in this direction.

The amendments will be returned to the assembly hall at autumn session after considering them by the parliamentarian committees. Only the Liberal Movement Alliance and the Liberal & Centre Alliance had no representatives who supported these amendments.

The initiators of the amendments: the members of the group Order & Justice Petras Gra?ulis, his colleague in the group Algimantas Dumbrava, the representative of the group of the Nation Resurrection Party Jonas Stanevi?ius, and conservatives Petras Luomanas, Kazimieras Uoka, and Justinas Urbanavi?ius.

The amendments of penal and administrative codes suggest that a person propagating homosexual relationships in public areas is committing a criminal action to be punished either by public works, or by a fine, or by arrestment. The amendments stipulate that a legal person also is to be responsible for such actions.

It is suggested to impose LTL 1 to 5 thousand fine for propagatinghomosexual relationships or for financing propagation in public places.

Earlier, the Seimas rejected initiated by P. Gra?ulis amendmentsstipulating the punishment for propagation of homosexuality, zoophilia and necrophilia, by deprivation of freedom for the term up to one year.

Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus vetoed a bill that banned from schools and public places information that agitates for homosexual, bisexual orpolygamous relations, late last month.

Seventy-one votes would be needed to override Adamkus’ veto on July 14.

The vetoed Law on the Protection of Minors Against the Detrimental Effect of Public Information, has been denounced by Amnesty International, ILGA-Europe, Human Rights Watch, foreign governments and members of the European Parliament but is likely to be finally approved next Tuesday.

Vladimir Simonko, chair of the national LGBT advocacy organizationLithuanian Gay League says:

“These heavy homophobia driven laws codify discrimination based on sexual orientation, deny freedom of expression, and inhibit LGBT persons’ rights to education, information and every day life. Panic fear of the Baltic Pride event planned in Vilnius for May 9, 2010 overshadows clear violation of international and European human rights law to which Lithuania is a
party”.

For more info:

Eduardas Platovas,
Programmes co-ordinator
Tel.:+370.5 2610314
Fax: +370 5 2130762
Mob. +370 612 15243
E-mail: edis@gay.lt
www.atviri.lt; www.lgl.lt