European Theater

Forgotten history: Muslims who sheltered Jews

The Independent on Feb. 3 reports on a very encouraging project organized by a group calling itself I Am Your Protector—"a community of people who speak up and stand up for each other across religion, race, gender and beliefs—to highlight the often forgotten stories of Muslims who helped Jews during the Holocaust. With interfaith ceremonies in several European and American cities on Holocaust Memorial Day, Jan. 27, IAYP celebrated the lives of such figures as Abdol Hossein Sardari, the "Iranian Schindler" who as a diplomat helped Persian Jews escape from wartime France by issuing passports and letters of transit. He was able to convince Nazi and Vichy authorities that Jugutis (Persian Muslims descended from Jews) should not be considered "racial" Jews—and was then able to secure travel documents for actual Jews under cover of being Jugutis. A similar personage is Selahattin Ulkumen, a Turkish diplomat in Nazi-occupied Greece, who interceded with the Germans to allow Jews of Turkish origin escape to neutral Turkey. 

Poland: thousands march against surveillance law

Thousands of people in Poland on Jan. 23 protested the government's planned changes to the legal code that would increase its surveillance over Polish citizens. The proposed changes to the law, initiated by the ruling Law and Justice Party, would expand the government's power to access digital data and loosen restrictions of using surveillance in law enforcement. The Law and Justice Party has been making moves to gain more control over the judiciary since it took office in November. The European Union has taken notice, launching an investigation into allegations that the Polish government is undermining democratic principles. If Poland were to be found guilty of these allegations, the country would lose voting rights in the EU for a specified period of time.

Crimean Tatar leader faces 'lawless' trial

A trial is about to open in Russian-annexed Crimea in which Akhtem Chiygoz, deputy head of the Crimean Tatar Majlis, and two other Tatar leaders stand accused of organizing mass disturbances in February 2014, in the prelude to the regional referendum that approved union with Russia. The Ukraine-based  Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group assails the trial as "lawless" and says it "flies in the face of all principles of law." The Crimean court on Nov 25 imposed a Dec. 4 deadline for the defense to review a huge file assembled by prosecutors, consisting of 26 volumes and 47 gigabits of video footage, each some four hours long. An appeal against this ruling was rejected on Dec. 24, although the defense argued that they had only had time to read 10 of the 26 volumes, and had actually been denied access to the material for much of the peroid. Chiygoz has been detained since January, and his freedom was a demand of recent protest blockades of Crimea's border with Ukraine, which stopped delivery of goods into the peninsula. Since the former Majlis head Mustafa Dzhemiliev and his successor Refat Chubarov have both been exiled by the new Russian athorities, Chiygoz is the highest-ranking Tatar leader remaining in Crimea.

France poses anti-terror constitutional amendment

French President Francois Hollande on Dec. 23 submitted a proposed constitutional amendment to parliament to address anti-terrorism laws in response to the terrorist attacks in Paris in November. It is reported that the proposed amendments would allow the government to strip the nationality of natural born citizens convicted of terrorist acts and extend emergency policing policies. The current emergency policing policies allow for officers to conduct warrantless searches and conduct house arrests. The French Parliament is set to vote on the proposed amendments in the beginning of the next year.

Refugee resistance on Balkan border

Riots broke out in the early hours of Dec. 3 at Greece's frontier with Macedonia as migrants and asylum seekers stranded there for the past two weeks blockaded the border, preventing people from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan from crossing. Since Nov. 18, only refugees from those three countries have been admitted into Macedonia, while other nationalities have been turned away. Many of those refused entry have boarded buses and returned to Athens in recent days, but about 3,000 have stayed to protest being discriminated against on the basis of nationality. Some have embarked on hunger strikes while several Iranian asylum seekers sewed their lips closed last week. (IRIN)

Spain strikes down Catalan independence plan

The Constitutional Court of Spain on Dec. 2 declared unconstitutional (PDF) a resolution by the Parliament of Catalonia that proposed a plan for the region's independence from Spain by 2017. The resolution was approved by Catalonian lawmakers in November, and stated that parliament would take the "necessary steps" to effect the separation from Spain in a peaceful and democratic manner and in a way that would empower citizens. The court held that the resolution violated Articles 1.1, 1.2 , 2, 9.1 and 168 of the Constitution and Articles 1 and 2.4 of the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia. The resolution states that the separation of Catalanonia from Spain is not subject to the decisions of the Constitutional Court.

Paris: police suppress climate protests

Several thousand gathered for the planned march on the eve of the United Nations Climate Conference (COP 21) that opened in Paris Nov. 30. But the march was banned under the State of Emergency declared following the Nov. 13 terror attacks. Defying the ban on public gatherings, some 10,000 Parisians and international activists joined hands to form a human chain along Boulevard Voltaire. When they later attempted to march on Place de la République, police deployed concussion grenades, tear-gas, pepper spray and baton charges. Some 150 who made it to Place de la République were detained for hours as police surrounded and sealed off the square. At least 174 were arrested. (Revolution News)

French parliament extends state of emergency

The French National Assembly voted Nov. 19 to extend the state of emergency for another three months. The state of emergency expands police power for searches and arrests, and allows authorities to restrict movement of individuals and vehicles with the country's borders. During the debate, Prime Minister Manuel Valls warned that France must be prepared to defend against chemical and biological warfare. The bill secured 551 votes with only six against, far surpassing the 279 necessary to pass the legislation through the chamber. The bill will now move to the Senate, where it is expected to pass.

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