After years of debate and a 2014 referendum, the Spanish town of Castrillo Matajudíos—yeah, that's right, "Fort Kill the Jews"—has officially changed back to its original name of Castrillo Mota de Judíos, or "Jew's Hill Fort." It's believed that the town, in Burgos province of Castile and León region, was originally a Jewish town. Residents had to convert under threat of death (generally being burned at the stake) or exile under the 1492 Edict of Expulsion, and adopted the new name as a way of proving their loyalty to the Catholic kings. No self-identified Jews live in the town today, but many residents have Jewish roots and the town's official shield includes the Star of David. The city's mayor Lorenzo Rodríguez led the initiative, saying that the name was offensive to many. (No, ya think?) (NPR, June 23)
A British warship sailing in the Mediterranean Sea launched a mission on June 7 to rescue over 500 migrants stranded at sea, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) said in a statement. A Royal Navy helicopter has found four migrant vessels in need of assistance so far. It was also reported by the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) and the Italian coastguard that on June 6 over 2,000 migrants were rescued from five wooden boats in the Mediterranean, and there have been reports of seven or more similar boats still currently out at sea.
A Serbian court on May 14 politically rehabilitated a World War II royalist executed nearly 70 years ago on convictions of collaborating with the Nazis. Serbian nationalist Dragoljub "Draza" Mihailovic was an officer of the royal army when the Nazis invaded. Mihailovic allegedly began collaborating with the invaders and joined with them against their common enemy, communist Josip Broz Tito. After Tito prevailed in 1945, Mihailovic was convicted of collaboration and committing war crimes. He was secretly executed and buried in an unknown location. In 2010 Mihailovic's grandson petitioned the courts to rehabilitate him, claiming that his grandfather had actually been fighting both Nazis and communists. The judge agreed , finding that the case against Mihailovic was politically motivated. Croatia called the ruling an outrage.
Activists in Spain staged a creative protest against the country's new "Citizen Safety Law" on April 10—projecting holograms of themselves that marched on the parliament building in Madrid. This was making the point that under the law, actual flesh-and-blood marches on government buildings would be banned—along with filming the police, failing to obey police orders, burning the national flag, or holding any protest without a permit. The ghostly hologram march was a joint effort by the groups No Somos Delito (We Are Not a Crime, the coalition that's come together to oppose the new "gag law") and the tech-savvy Hologramas por la Libertad (Holograms for Freedom). People worldwide were invited to record videos of themselves marching and holding signs, that were converted into holograms.
Police in Kosova fired tear gas to disperse stone-throwing protesters Jan. 24 as thousands of ethnic Albanians took to the streets of capital Pristina to demand the dismissal of Labor Minister Aleksandar Jablanovic, one of three ethnic Serbs in Prime Minister Isa Mustafa's cabinet. Jablanovic sparked outrage two weeks earlier when he called a group of ethnic Albanians "savages" for trying to prevent Serb pilgrims from visiting a monastery at Gjakova (Djakovica) on Orthodox Christmas. The group had claimed "war criminals" were among the pilgrims. There was more ugliness Jan. 14, when Serbia's Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said that Albanian protesters kicked his car when he arrived at Kosova's Gracanica monastery for a ceremony. At the same event, Albanian reporters asked when Serbia would "apologize" for the ethnic cleansing in Kosova, and recognize Kosova's independence. Vucic replied that he would not answer "silly questions." There were apparently atrocities against ethnic Albanians in the vicinity of these monasteries during the Kosova war in late '90s, and we have noted the recent propensity for Orthodox holy sites to become a flashpoint for slugfests. But, as ever, there are actual issues of control of wealth and resources behind the conflict...
We were very enthused that Alexis Tsipras, the new prime minister from Greece's leftist Syriza party, in his first act after being sworn in today laid flowers at the National Resistance Memorial in the Athens suburb of Kaisariani, where the Nazis executed 200 Greek communist partisan fighters on May 1, 1944. (Sky News) An unsubtle message, both to Greece's own resurgent neo-Nazi right, and to contemporary German financial imperialism. We applaud. Especially since the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn (its leadership in prison awaiting trial for running a criminal organization) came in a highly disoncerting third in the election. This is a sign of polarization, with the pro-austerity "center" collapsing, and far right and radical left in a contest to seize the populist space. What's not so good is that Tsipras and Syriza, just short of the outright majority needed to govern alone, have quickly formed a bloc with lawmakers from a right-wing anti-immigrant populist party, the Independent Greeks. (AP)
This is why UN hearings on anti-Semitism are a very, very bad idea. The General Assembly "informal" conference opened Jan. 22 with a keynote address by French philosopher (of Sephardic background) Bernard-Henri Lévy—yes, the same who was recently in the news over having pressured Charlie Hebdo to fire an anti-Semitic cartoonist, was a few months back the target of angry protests in Tunisia over his supposed intrigues against the post-revolutionary government, and also made headlines in 2011 with his unseemly defense of accused rapist Dominque Strauss-Kahn. A choice perfectly designed to turn the whole affair into a counter-productive farce. Arab and Israeli diplomats did not fail to deliver opportunistic obfuscation that just makes everyone stupider.
A dangerous social consensus can be seen consolidating behind the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie. France just announced it is sending its Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier to support military operations against ISIS in Iraq. This comes after al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed responsibility for the Paris attack in a video message by commander Nasr Bin Ali al-Anesi on the Qaedist website Sada al-Malahim (not on Google, seemingly). Al-Anesi said the attack was carried out under orders from al-Qaeda's global leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri. (Yemen Post, Reuters, CNN) Reprisal attacks are sweeping France. Abdallah Zekri of the National Observatory Against Islamophobia said that since the Charlie Hebdo massacre, 26 Muslim places of worship around France have been attacked with firebombs, fired at, or desecrated with pig heads. There have been many more insults and threats. (AP) We have heard of no arrests in these cases, but French authorities have detained 54 for violating the country's strong laws against anti-Semitism and racism—seemingly all preceived apologists for Islamist terrorism. Among the detained is comedian Dieudonne M'Bala M'Bala, who has repeated convictions under the hate speech laws. Prime Minister Manuel Valls has declared Dieudonné "no longer a comedian" but an "anti-Semite and racist." He was arrested after posting a Facebook comment playing on the popular hashtag to suggest that he "is" one of the slain assailants in the Charlie attack. (AP, AFP, Foreign Policy, Jurist) However repulsive Dieudonne's post, the cognitive dissonance is overwhelming. An attack on free speech is being used to justify further attacks on free speech... all in the name of protecting free speech.