Friday, September 28, 2018

"Crimes of solidarity’ in Europe multiply -- 11 stand trial in Belgium for helping migrants"

[The September 6, 2018, trial of 11 people who have helped migrants in Belgium has attracted a number of protesters. Photo: Melissa Vida. Used with permission.]
 "Eleven people who had been arrested and charged with human trafficking in October 2017 appeared in court in Brussels on September 6, the first hearing of a trial that activists say is yet another case of “criminalization of solidarity” in Europe.

The defendants have allegedly assisted 95 undocumented migrants, including 12 minors, to travel from Belgium to the United Kingdom last year, either by hosting them in their homes, by lending them phones and thereby indirectly helping them cross the channel.
On the day of the trial, three hundred people protested in front of the courthouse. Demonstrators say this is a political trial, aimed at dissuading people from helping migrants by establishing an intimidating judicial precedent.
The defendants are two Belgian journalists, one Belgian-Moroccan social worker, a Tunisian man who is a legal Belgian resident and seven people who are undocumented migrants themselves. Eight of the defendants have been in jail since the arrest.
Belgian law states that there must be a monetary transaction involved for an act to be framed as human trafficking, something the defendants deny ever happening. However, the relationship between the migrants and their helpers seems to fall into a legal grey area, raising fears that the law's scope is unjustly being expanded to target activists.
Myriam Berghe, one of the two journalists, said in an interview with RTBF (Belgium's public service broadcaster) that she's received money on behalf of a migrant she was hosting. The migrant in question had been sent money from abroad via Western Union, Berghe says, but had no way of collecting it due to having no papers. What for Berghe was simply an act of kindness, in the eyes of the authorities was payment for smuggling.
In the same interview, she explains that despite some of the people she's hosted being smugglers themselves, she wouldn't consider them “human traffickers...”
Read more from source at Global Voices here.

Friday, September 21, 2018

"In Hungary Many Artists Have Left The Country"

"[This week] the European parliament has voted to trigger the EU's most serious disciplinary procedure against Hungary, saying the country’s government poses a “systematic threat” to democracy and the rule of law. 

Gergely Nagy writes about the impact of the political right on culture in Hungary."

Friday, September 14, 2018

In Catalonia: "Major rise in politically motivated hate crime"

"The number of incidents of politically motivated discrimination reported to the police has shot up in Catalonia, rising to 121 cases last year (of a total of 393 reports of hate motivated offences) compared with 54 in 2016. 

The 124% increase is attributed to “the major politicisation of a part of Catalan society” arising from the independence process, according to the prosecutor for the Hate Crimes service in Barcelona, Miguel Ă€ngel Aguilar.

Aguilar yesterday pointed out that political affiliation is the second most important motive for hate crimes in both police and judicial reports. Of the 291 legal cases begun in 2017, some 59 were politically motivated. This number is greater than the record number of 35 politically motivated hate crimes in November 2017.

The main causes for discrimination offences in Catalonia are ethnic (34%), followed by political (31%), with sexual orientation (22%) coming third.
The prosecutor also pointed to a rise in discrimination against the Muslim community, a rising trend in recent years, and one that spiked following the terror attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils last August.
Injury and threats are the main offences committed, with discrimination a growing problem. Most of these offences are committed in person (87% of cases), followed by those on social media (8%) and then the internet (5%)."
 - BARCELONA IN catalonia today news (from el punt avui.)

Saturday, September 8, 2018

"The great human paella" -- My latest opinion column for Catalonia today magazine

Walk around any medium sized town in this part of the world and you will see something different.

Compared to say, Britain or the USA, here on the average wall in public places, there is a lot of space that is used for posters which are not commercial advertising.

Apart from the sometimes humorous and succinct graffiti and crammed Informatico Ciutadana boards, blank vertical spaces are often being utilised for letting people know about various events, festivals and not-for-profit performances.

The number and range of groups and organisations that do not follow the "post no bills" credo still surprises (and impresses) me even after more than a decade of living here. What this suggests is that there is a collective consciousness that goes well beyond clicking the "Join" button on a Facebook group. It shows that there is a genuine interest and involvement with what goes on outside ourselves.

The cult of fear

In stark contrast to this, as Lewis Thomas identified as early as the 1970's, in countries like Australia and the USA, people have instead become obsessed with their health -- the private world, not the public one.

He believed there was "something fundamentally unhealthy" about this "loss of confidence in the human body" and saw much of this attitude being created through (apart from the obvious) such seemingly unlikely sources as television medical dramas and those shows where the central human dilemma is illness.

I would say that the "cult of fear," meaning fear in general, is what keeps alive entire industries. It feeds self-obsession.

This in turn has infected that species of person whose mind is never too far from the state of their own body. They can be heard in San Francisco or Melbourne cafes talking about how their last purely organic meal affected them or how they are desperately craving some holistic yoga therapy. They are not only looking for power over their own physical domains but over fear of ageing and inevitable decay.

As Lewis Thomas pointed out, the "healthy hypochondriacs" should not distract us from more urgent problems. Thirty five years ago he correctly foresaw that preoccupation with personal health would be a worrying distraction. Just outside the limits of our flesh and bone, he observed that "the whole of society is coming undone."

On a more optimistic note, it makes me happy to see that others enjoy what I enjoy. The journalist Vicente Molina Foix recently wrote about travelling in the Madrid Metro:

“I like to see the juxtaposition of various skin colors, and hear the melody of incomprehensible languages, as the train of the future approaches on the rails of life.”

Here is a man at ease with one of the biggest changes to European and Spanish life in the last few decades. He is not afraid of the new. The cult of fear has seemingly bypassed him. Instead, Molina Foix has realised that this continent is becoming one great human paella with a tasty mixture of fresh ingredients.

Those Europeans who make the effort to appreciate the benefits of migrants from across this odd little planet will be doing little more than opening up their senses.The continuing mixing of cultures is one of the great success stories of human history and closing ourselves off from the results of migration is as pointless as trying to ignore the music from a neighbour’s radio drifting into our ears.

Migration will not end. The human animal that adapts best to the changes in its surroundings will continue to be the human animal that thrives.

[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, September 2018.]