Why Croatia is bucking the eastern European trend on migrants

By Mirna Solic, University of Glasgow

When Hungary put razor wire along its borders, Croatia took centre stage as the East European country most affected by the surge of refugees from conflict zones in the Middle East. An estimated 44,000 people have arrived on Croatian territory since its neighbouring countries began to reject arrivals.

Croatia’s immediate stance on the refugee crisis was that no walls would be built and no barbed wire would be erected, because “in the 21st century barbed wire is not a solution but a threat”. This was warmly welcomed by political circles in the West.

Despite claims in the press that Croatia has closed its borders, the government insists that they remain open. And while public figures have expressed concern about being able to cope with the numbers, there remains a strong desire to help.

This is in stark contrast to the vehemently hostile approach taken by leading figures in Hungary and Serbia. It was also potentially surprising given Croatia’s reputation as a fairly closed and xenophobic society. Only recently, it suffered international shame when a swastika was painted on a football field in Split prior to a game with Italy.

The difference may be because the sight of thousands of desperate people escaping misery is painfully familiar to them. It is not long since many Croatian nationals experienced the same.

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Refugee crisis: How border closures in Europe are boosting the profits of organized crime

Misha Glenny writes: In the midst of the refugee crisis, the European Union has for the first time ever been considering deploying naval assets against organized crime. People smuggling, chiefly from Syria and the Horn of Africa, is now a multibillion-dollar business that is as profitable, if not more so, than the trade in illegal narcotics.

This is not the trafficking of migrant labor or women for sexual purposes. These criminal gangs are effectively offering travel-agent services to desperate people fleeing conflict. Their services can include false documentation, bribes to border guards and transport, in dangerous, often deadly, circumstances.

Sadly, the measures countries are taking to counteract the flood of refugees serve only to make organized crime stronger. As long as European countries fail to implement a plan to take in refugees across member states, the business of people smuggling will continue to grow.

It has been almost a decade since I first argued that organized crime should be seen as a priority for resources above the more emotive issue of combating terrorism. The crisis in Europe demonstrates just how devastating the impact of organized crime can be, through both the exploitation of defenseless refugees and the undermining of legitimate governments at a time when countries on Europe’s periphery are facing daunting economic challenges. [Continue reading…]


Why football embraces migrants

By Simon Chadwick, Coventry University

If the European Union was a football team, right now it would be languishing in the relegation zone. The EU’s disjointed approach to the current influx of migrants and refugees is reminiscent of the rampant individualism displayed in some of Europe’s ego-laden, under-performing football clubs.

But there is an EU team putting together some good passes and scoring important goals – Germany. While other countries have been caught flat-footed, the Germans have been as deft and assured as ever, just like the country’s football teams.

Whether it’s the World Cup, the European Championship or the Champions League, it is normally safe to say that a German team will be in contention for the overall honours. Collective identity and the team’s best interests seemingly always trump individualism and ego.

And, as Germany has opened its borders to people fleeing conflict in the Middle East, so German football has responded in the same way.

Leading from the front, Bayern Munich last week pledged €1m to projects supporting the refugees now entering Germany. Meanwhile FC Schalke invited 100 refugees to their first home game of the season, and the club is organising clothing and toy collections. Other clubs, such as Borussia Dortmund and Werder Bremen are following suit with similar initiatives.

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Europe is parched, in a sign of times to come

The Guardian reports: Europe has undergone a severe drought this summer, the worst in over a decade. Temperatures have been high across the continent, and have combined with low rainfalls. This drought, like the one in 2012 in the United States, are a sign of what our future holds in a warming world.

As humans emit greenhouse gases, the world warms. We already know that. But a warming world is also host to other changes. Among the most important changes are those to the water cycle. Scientists refer to this as the hydrological cycle – basically changes to the storage of water in the soil and underground, the evaporation of water into the atmosphere, and the subsequent rainfall and runoff that occurs.

A warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, as people know through the personal experience of high humidity in warm months. Changes to humidity have been measured over the past decades and confirm our expectations. These changes lead to increased rainfall.

At the same time, higher temperatures accelerate evaporation, which dries out the soil and plants and can create drought conditions. [Continue reading…]


Europe’s fear of Muslim refugees echoes rhetoric of 1930s anti-Semitism

Ishaan Tharoor writes: Some governments in Eastern Europe have even specifically indicated they don’t want to accommodate non-Christian refugees, out of supposed fear over the ability of Muslims to integrate into Western society.

“Refugees are fleeing fear,” urged a spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency last week. “Refugees are not to be feared.”

It’s important to recognize that this is hardly the first time the West has warily eyed masses of refugees. And while some characterize Muslim arrivals as a supposedly unique threat, the xenophobia of the present carries direct echoes of a very different moment: The years before World War II, when tens of thousands of German Jews were compelled to flee Nazi Germany.

Consider this 1938 article in the Daily Mail, a British tabloid still known for its bouts of right-wing populism. Its headline warned of “German Jews Pouring Into This Country.” And it began as follows:

“The way stateless Jews and Germans are pouring in from every port of this country is becoming an outrage. I intend to enforce the law to the fullest.”

In these words, Mr Herbert Metcalde, the Old Street Magistrate yesterday referred to the number of aliens entering this country through the ‘back door’ — a problem to which The Daily Mail has repeatedly pointed.

The number of aliens entering this country can be seen by the number of prosecutions in recent months. It is very difficult for the alien to escape the increasing vigilance of the police and port authorities.

Even if aliens manage to break through the defences, it is not long before they are caught and deported.

No matter the alarming rhetoric of Hitler’s fascist state — and the growing acts of violence against Jews and others — popular sentiment in Western Europe and the United States was largely indifferent to the plight of German Jews.

“Of all the groups in the 20th century,” write the authors of the 1999 book, “Refugees in the Age of Genocide,” “refugees from Nazism are now widely and popularly perceived as ‘genuine’, but at the time German, Austrian and Czechoslovakian Jews were treated with ambivalence and outright hostility as well as sympathy.”

Part of that hostility was fueled, as some of the European grievances are now, by stereotypes of the refugees as harbingers of a dangerous ideology, in this instance communism and anarchist violence. [Continue reading…]


Stranded on the platform, refugees feel the force of hostility in Hungary

By Umut Korkut, Glasgow Caledonian University

After being blockaded for days, Budapest’s main rail terminal has been reopened to migrants and refugees desperate to settle in the EU.

An estimated 3,000 people had been camped outside the station, and once it was reopened at least 1,000 rushed in to try and board trains – although there were none to board since departures to Western Europe had been cancelled for “security reasons”. The Hungarian authorities reinstated the policy of registering all migrants before allowing them to leave the country, a demand issued by various European leaders including Angela Merkel.

This remarkable series of events highlights the extreme intolerance that has characterised Hungarian politics for some time. But it must also serve as a warning to the rest of Europe. Hungarian xenophobia is becoming a template for rightist movements across the continent.

In 2014, I conducted research on anti-immigrant feelings in Hungary and Turkey, and it was clear to me that fear of migrants was far outpacing the reality of the “threat”.

While there were already signs that Turkey was becoming a major destination for refugees leaving Syria, there was little indication that Hungary would also feel the brunt of the refugee crisis caused by wars in the Middle East. Given its position in central Europe, you might think Hungary would have little to fear from prospective refugees. But the number of immigrants rarely bears any relationship to the fear of them.

Right after the EU accession, a 2007 opinion survey saw 80% of Hungarians say they would not welcome ethnic groups such as Arabs, Chinese and Russians into their country. The same refusal rate applied for the Pirez – a completely fictitious group added into the survey.

So it is perhaps not surprising that the actual arrival of migrants and refugees in Hungary this summer has caused such a stir.

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Mass migration: What is driving the Balkan exodus?

Der Spiegel reports: When Visar Krasniqi reached Berlin and saw the famous image on Bernauer Strasse — the one of the soldier jumping over barbed wire into the West — he knew he had arrived. He had entered a different world, one that he wanted to become a part of. What he didn’t yet know was that his dream would come to an end 11 months later, on Oct. 5, 2015. By then, he has to leave, as stipulated in the temporary residence permit he received.

Krasniqi is not a war refugee, nor was he persecuted back home. In fact, he has nothing to fear in his native Kosovo. He says that he ran away from something he considers to be even worse than rockets and Kalashnikovs: hopelessness. Before he left, he promised his sick mother in Pristina that he would become an architect, and he promised his fiancée that they would have a good life together. “I’m a nobody where I come from, but I want to be somebody.”
But it is difficult to be somebody in Kosovo, unless you have influence or are part of the mafia, which is often the same thing. Taken together, the wealth of all parliamentarians in Kosovo is such that each of them could be a millionaire. But Krasniqi works seven days a week as a bartender, and earns just €200 ($220) a month.

But a lack of prospects is not a recognized reason for asylum, which is why Krasniqi’s application was initially denied. The 30,000 Kosovars who have applied for asylum in Germany since the beginning of the year are in similar positions. And the Kosovars are not the only ones. This year, the country has seen the arrival of 5,514 Macedonians, 11,642 Serbians, 29,353 Albanians and 2,425 Montenegrins. Of the 196,000 people who had filed an initial application for asylum in Germany by the end of July, 42 percent are from the former Yugoslavia, a region now known as the Western Balkans.

The exodus shows the wounds of the Balkan wars have not yet healed. [Continue reading…]


Europeans shocked by efforts of Israel lobby to block Iran deal

The New York Times reports: In the United States, pro-Israel groups have spent heavily on a campaign to block the deal in the Congress, organizing meetings with Israeli diplomats and a videoconference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who has called the deal a “stunning historic mistake” that threatens Israel’s existence.

Although France’s main Jewish organization has expressed “very serious doubts” about the Iran deal, [Camille] Grand [director of the Strategic Research Foundation in Paris and an expert on nuclear nonproliferation] said, its objections have not spilled into the political sphere.

“Netanyahu’s opposition was so extreme that it made it difficult for it to exist in any French debate,” he said. “Even critics couldn’t sign up to the Netanyahu narrative because it doesn’t offer a constructive solution.”

And then there is the money — huge sums being spent mainly by the pro-Israel groups, less by supporters of the deal — which shock Europeans unused to this kind of profligate lobbying. Some here are also baffled by the hyperbole coming out of Washington, with talk of a choice between war and peace, and oblique references to the Holocaust. [Continue reading…]


Tens of thousands of Syrians, Yemenis, and others seeking refuge in Europe

The Daily Beast reports: At first glance, nothing seems amiss on Greece’s northern border. Corn and wheat are slowly ripening in fields on the frontier with the former Yugoslav Macedonia. Along their edges, the uncultivated dirt bursts forth with poppies and chicory.

At dusk, the scene comes to life: Scores of people emerge from among the stands of poplars and plane trees that line the Vardar River. By nightfall, groups of hikers carrying backpacks and long walking sticks made from stripped branches gather at the borderline, preparing to cross north. They speak little, and only in whispers.

Almost all of them are fleeing war or repression in Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Most are trying to get to Germany, where they hope to apply for political or humanitarian asylum. They hope to follow the Vardar valley all the way to Serbia, often walking on a freight track that follows the river’s gentle contours. From there, they plan to walk through Hungary and Austria.

The leader of one such group explained why he was there with his two eldest sons, aged 15 and 16. “I decided to leave Yemen so that I will never see my children fight for al Qaeda or any other side. Sooner or later, one militia or another will approach them.” Hashim, as he identifies himself, has had to leave behind a wife and four younger children he may never see again. [Continue reading…]


Srebrenica revisited

Seema Jilani writes: On July 11, 1995, a Dutch­ contingent of United Nations peacekeepers ceded control of Srebrenica, leaving the town’s civilian population — swollen with thousands of Bosnian Muslim refugees — at the mercy of besieging Serb forces. Serb soldiers and paramilitary police officers systematically executed about 8,000 Muslim men and boys, dumping their bodies in mass graves, which were bulldozed to hide the evidence.

The images most people remember today — the skeletal prisoners behind barbed wire, awaiting death in concentration camps — are only a part of the genocide. This was the worst atrocity on European soil since World War II; the entire region is dotted with mass graves.

Less well known is the history of “The Column,” a group of about 15,000 Bosnian Muslims who tried to escape the executions by walking more than 60 miles northwest through thick forests toward the safe haven of Tuzla. The harrowed survivors who reached the town were emaciated and traumatized.

To honor the memory of those who died, and to highlight the lack of justice served on those who perpetrated war crimes, hundreds of survivors and supporters this week walked the route taken by The Column in reverse. Working with the photographer Laura Boushnak, I interviewed survivors and relatives of the victims. [Continue reading…]


U.S. is poised to put heavy weaponry in Eastern Europe

The New York Times reports: In a significant move to deter possible Russian aggression in Europe, the Pentagon is poised to store battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and other heavy weapons for as many as 5,000 American troops in several Baltic and Eastern European countries, American and allied officials say.

The proposal, if approved, would represent the first time since the end of the Cold War that the United States has stationed heavy military equipment in the newer NATO member nations in Eastern Europe that had once been part of the Soviet sphere of influence. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine have caused alarm and prompted new military planning in NATO capitals.

It would be the most prominent of a series of moves the United States and NATO have taken to bolster forces in the region and send a clear message of resolve to allies and to Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, that the United States would defend the alliance’s members closest to the Russian frontier. [Continue reading…]


Back from Syria and Iraq, Bosnian fighters pose threat at home

Reuters reports: Bosnian fighters returning from Syria and Iraq are forming regional militant networks that pose a direct threat to security in the Balkans and beyond, a study warned on Thursday.

The returnees have formed links extending to Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo, said the non-profit Sarajevo-based Atlantic Initiative, and may be radicalizing youngsters on the margins of society.

“Once a destination country for foreign fighters in the 1990s, Bosnia is now the country of origin for volunteers in other people’s wars,” said Vlado Azinovic, a co-author of the report. [Continue reading…]


Increasingly frequent call on Baltic Sea: ‘The Russian navy is back’

The New York Times reports: The Emanuel, a 90-foot trawler, has what is supposed to be a humdrum job, plying a 30-mile stretch of the Baltic Sea to make sure vessels do not snag their anchors on a pair of electricity cables recently installed on the seabed.

On the morning of April 30, however, the Emanuel’s captain sent an alarming message to the Dutch operator of the trawler. “The Russian Navy is back,” he reported, adding that Lithuania had also sent a warship to the area, a patch of shallow water off this Lithuanian port city.

The encounter passed without violence, and the cables, being built to connect Lithuania to Sweden’s electricity grid, were left undisturbed. But the intrusion, one of four this year by Russian warships into the cable-laying zone, was yet another round in what has become a nerve-rattling test of wills between Russia and the West over former Soviet lands since the conflict in Ukraine started last year.

Cutting the region’s dependence on Russian energy — long one of Moscow’s main levers to squeeze its neighbors and get its way — has become central to that contest, and it is something Moscow is making increasingly clear it considers a threat, both financial and geopolitical. [Continue reading…]


Some right-wing Europeans say Islam hasn’t contributed to Western culture. Here’s why they’re wrong

Akbar Ahmed writes: One of the right-wing tropes about Islam in Europe, which is making alarming inroads into the mainstream, is that it represents a “culture of backwardness, of retardedness, of barbarism” and has made no contribution to Western civilization. Islam provides an easy target considering that some 3,000 or more Europeans are estimated to have left for the Middle East in order to fight alongside the Islamic State. The savage beheadings and disgusting treatment of women and minorities confirm in the minds of many that Islam is incompatible with Western civilization. This has become a widely known, and even unthinkingly accepted, proposition. But is it correct?

Let us look at European history for answers. At least 10 things will surprise you: [Continue reading…]


Half a million refugees gather in Libya to attempt perilous crossing to Europe

The Guardian reports: Up to half a million refugees are gathering in Libya to attempt the crossing to Europe on the deadly boats that have killed thousands already.

The toll of misery was revealed by senior Royal Navy officers leading Britain’s Mediterranean rescue mission off the Libyan coast. Britain’s amphibious assault ship HMS Bulwark has helped save around 4,000 refugees before they drowned having set sail in unseaworthy boats.

The ship’s 350-strong company of sailors and Royal Marines is bracing itself to rescue a further 3,000. Captain Nick Cooke-Priest said: “Indications are that there are 450,000 to 500,000 migrants in Libya who are waiting at the border.” [Continue reading…]


European nations unify laws to prevent foreign fighters

The Associated Press: European governments agreed Tuesday to synchronize their laws to bar citizens from going abroad to fight for the Islamic State group and other extremists.

A document signed by foreign ministers from the 47-nation Council of Europe requires countries to outlaw specific actions, including intentionally taking part in terrorist groups, receiving terrorist training or traveling abroad for the purpose of engaging in terrorism.

Analysts say European laws vary, with some countries like France charging people with crimes if they plan to leave to join a violent extremist group, and others, such as in Scandinavia, lacking a legal way to prevent their citizens from becoming foreign fighters.


Is Marine Le Pen in bed with Putin?

The Daily Beast reports: On May 11, delegates from Europe’s political fringes travelled to Donetsk, the occupied ‘capital’ of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), for a forum to mark the first anniversary of the proclamation of the Russian-backed separatist entities in Ukraine. This in itself is unsurprising since far-right politicians have been used on several occasions to lend a veneer of legitimacy to Russia’s puppet statelets and sham votes since the invasion of Crimea last year.

The attendance roster for this confab included some familiar pro-Putin faces such as French far-right Member of European Parliament Jean-Luc Schaffhauser, Italian nationalist Alessandro Musolino and German neo-Nazi journalist Manuel Ochsenreiter, who moonlights as Kremlin propaganda channel RT’s German “expert” on the Middle East. But this time there was one surprising name in the bunch: Emmanuel Leroy.

Leroy was billed as representing the French charity, Urgence d’Enfants Ukraine (UEU), led by Alain Fragny, a former member of the extreme-right Bloc Identitaire. UEU is a suspicious organization that promotes pro-Russian and pro-separatist propaganda on its websites and is rather opaque with regards to its structure and operations. Leroy was also named by the official site of the DNR leadership as one of the initiators of the forum back in March this year.

But this infamously reclusive figure on France’s far-right is a far more interesting and important figure than any of the other political outliers to have participated in pro-separatist events.

Leroy is a former member of GRECE (Groupement de recherche et d’études pour la civilisation européenne, or the Research and Study Group for European Civilization), an extreme, ethno-nationalist think tank, formed in 1968 and headed by Alain de Benoist, whose name appeared in a leaked list of potentially sympathetic contacts purportedly drafted by the Russian ultra-nationalist, Aleksandr Dugin. GRECE promotes ethnic nationalism as a bulwark against race-mixing, placing great emphasis on pre-Christian Nordic culture, which left the group at odds with the Catholic mainstream of the Front National, France’s increasingly popular far-right party, which last year won two seats in the French senate. [Continue reading…]


Logging threatens one of Europe’s last virgin forests

Der Spiegel reports: It’s not easy to fight for your cause with pepper spray in your mouth and eyes, but Gabriel Paun tried it anyway in front of the gate of a huge sawmill in the Romanian town of Sebes. On that day last winter, Paun had followed a truck loaded with lumber after the vehicle left the Retezat National Park, located in the heart of the Carpathian Mountains — one of Europe’s most beautiful forested regions — and in the heart of a threatened world.

Paun was wearing a brown vest over a camouflage hoodie. He had a buzzed, military style haircut. Paun, an activist with the Romanian organization Agent Green, followed the truck to the sawmill. He had a suspicion and all he had to do was make one phone call to confirm it.

In Romania there is a hotline to check the origins of lumber transports. The system can use the license plate number to track each truckload of wood. Paun dialed the number and an employee at the Environment Ministry’s wood tracking section picked up the phone. Her answer left no doubt: She said the lumber was “illegal.” Paun followed the truck to the entrance of the sawmill, which belongs to Austria’s Schweighofer Group, and informed security guards working for the company. But instead of taking the wood out of circulation, they put Paun out of commission: first with blows, then with pepper spray, causing Paun to fall to the ground. Everything was captured on shaky video images and uploaded to YouTube.

The film snippet is a hit in Romania, where it has become a symbol for the Romanians’ concern for their forests — and for their powerlessness to stop it from disappearing. At stake here is one of the last virgin forests in Europe. These are regions roamed by brown bears, wolves and lynxes, and many of these areas have remained untouched for centuries. [Continue reading…]