Your browser version is outdated. We recommend that you update your browser to the latest version.

Muslim 'ring of peace' around Norway synagogueGuadalupe del OlmoGuadalupe del Olmo

Posted 22/02/2015

By Guadalupe del Olmo

Jews and Muslims hold hands as they join in a ring of solidarity around the synagogue in Oslo, Norway.

More than 1,000 Muslims formed a human shield around Oslo's synagogue on Saturday, offering symbolic protection for the city's Jewish community and condemning an attack on a synagogue in neighbouring Denmark last weekend.


Chanting "No to anti-semitism, no to islamophobia," Norway's Muslims formed what they called a ring of peace a week after Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein, a Danish-born son of Palestinian immigrants, killed two people at a synagogue and an event promoting free-speech in Copenhagen last weekend.

"Humanity is one and we are here to demonstrate that," Zeeshan Abdullah, one of the protest's organisers told a crowd of Muslim immigrants and ethnic Norwegians who filled the small street around Oslo's only functioning synagogue.

"There are many more peacemongers than warmongers," Abdullah said as organisers and Jewish community leaders stood side by side. "


"There's still hope for humanity, for peace and love, across religious differences and backgrounds."

Norway's Jewish community is one of Europe's smallest, numbering around 1,000, and the Muslim population, which has been growing steadily through immigration, is 150,000 to 200,000. Norway has a population of approximately 5.2 million.

The debate over immigration in the country came to the forefront in 2011 when Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people and accused the government and the then-ruling labour party of facilitating Muslim immigration and adulterating pure Norwegian blood.

Support for immigration has been rising steadily since those attacks, however, an opinion poll late last year found that 77% of people thought immigrants made an important contribution to Norwegian society. Police shot dead a 22-year-old Danish-born gunman after he killed two people at a Copenhagen synagogue and an event promoting free speech.

His actions appeared to be inspired by the attack on the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, authorities said.

Danish spy chief Jens Madsen said the gunman was known to intelligence services prior to the shooting and had probably acted alone.
Police said he had a record of violence, gang-related activities and weapons possession.


Two civilians - a 37-year-old synagogue guard and a 55-year-old film-maker – were killed and five police were wounded in the two separate attacks in the Danish capital.

Danish media reported the gunman to be Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein.

Reports said El-Hussein had been jailed for stabbing a 19-year-old man in the leg on a Copenhagen train in 2013, and was freed a few weeks ago.

"We will do everything possible to protect our Jewish community."

Denmark became a target of violent Islamists 10 years ago after the publication of cartoons lampooning the Prophet Muhammad, images that led to sometimes fatal protests in the Muslim world.

Many Muslims consider any representation of the prophet blasphemous.

Mr Lars Vilks sparked a controversy in 2007 with drawings depicting Muhammad's head on a dog, triggering death threats.

He has lived under Swedish police protection since 2010 and two years ago an American woman was jailed for ten years in the United States for plotting to kill him.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said such attacks were likely to continue, and that Israel would welcome European Jews who chose to move to there.

Contrasting this welcome and positive story from Norway, families of three British schoolgirls feared to be travelling to join the Islamic State militant group in Syria have issued emotional appeals for them to come home.


Close friends Kadiza Sultana, 17, and 15-year-olds Shamima Begum and Amira Abase left their east London homes on Tuesday and flew to Istanbul.

Turkey is a key entry point for those seeking to travel to Syria, and as of writing Turkish authorities believe that the three teenagers may have already crossed the Syrian border.

Police believe the three girls, all of whom are academic high achievers, were following the example of a friend who fled to join IS jihadists in December.

British media reported the girls had been interviewed by police about where their friend had gone but were not considered at risk of leaving the country themselves.


Ms Abase's family agreed that she could be identified for the first time in the hope of securing her safe return.

"You are strong, smart, beautiful and we are hoping you will make the right decision," they said in a statement issued by police, adding "please return home."

Ms Sultana's family described how they were feeling "completely distressed" and that her departure had been "a complete nightmare".
"We miss you terribly, especially Mum, and things have not been the same without you," they said.

Ms Begum's family added Syria was "a dangerous place and we don't want you to go there".

"We understand that you have strong feelings and want to help those you believe are suffering in Syria," the family said.

The girls flew to Istanbul on a Turkish Airlines flight from London's Gatwick airport.

Counter-terrorism experts estimate around 50 women have travelled from Britain to Syria to join the IS group, which has captured swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria.

Cameron deeply concerned by the case

David Cameron described the case as "deeply concerning" and urged schools to recognise their role in the "fight against Islamist extremist terror".

Mr Cameron added: "It is deeply concerning and obviously our authorities will do everything we can to help these girls.”

"But it does make a broader point which is the fight against Islamist extremist terror is not just one that we can wage by the police and border control.”

"It needs every school, every university, every college, every community to recognise they have a role to play.”

"We all have a role to play in stopping people from having their minds poisoned by this appalling death cult."


By Guadalupe del Olmo for EU Spectator



Big tobacco threatens Ireland with plain packaging lawsuitCillian DonnellyCillian Donnelly


Posted 19/02/2015

By Cillian Donnelly


One of the biggest global tobacco giants has threatened the Irish government with a lawsuit if it proceeds with plans to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes in the country.

JTI Ireland, which owns brands including Benson & Hedges, Silk Cut and Hamlet, and operates under the parent company Japan Tobacco Group, based in Geneva, issued stern letters to the Irish government this week warning that if legislation prohibiting plain packaging on cigarettes does not immediately halt, the company will take legal action against the government for infringement of intellectual and other rights.


If Ireland can succeed in passing the plain packaging law, which prohibits branding on cigarette packaging in favour of graphic health warnings, it will be the first EU country to do so. As such, the tobacco industry fears a precedent being set within the European Union.

Ireland was the first country to bring in a total work place ban on smoking in 2004, something that has subsequently been adopted by other countries. Currently, the fears from industry are that similar thinking will begin to permeate within other EU member states' governments, and that history will repeat.

In October 2014, when the law in Ireland was being discussed, the European Commission (under Health Commissioner Tonio Borg) said that it would not stand in the way of Ireland introducing such a law, despite opposition from certain EU member states.

Worldwide, the tobacco industry has been threatening governments across the globe, notably in south-east Asia and Africa) with lawsuits whenever anti-tobacco legislation has been mooted.

Australia was the first country in the world to successfully introduce a law insisting on plain packaging on cigarettes. Japan Tobacco does not operate in that jurisdiction.

This week, JTI has issued warnings to the Irish Health Minister, Leo Varadkar, the former Minister of Health, James Reilly (who was in charge of the legislation when it was introduced last year), and the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, saying that if the proposed legislation was not halted, the firm would interject with legal proceedings.

The law has not yet been drafted. The proposed bill is set to be debated at committee stage in the Irish parliament next week. However, according to the industry threat, if the debate remains on the schedule, the lawsuit will be filed in the Irish courts at the end of this week. If this procedure is dismissed, say, on grounds of prematurity, then it is likely that a case will be brought at a higher level, such as the European Court of Justice.

There have been similar murmurings against the British government, which is also looking at the possibility of introducing plain packaging laws.

During a debate in parliament on 17 February, James Reilly, now Minister for Children, said that the Irish government “will not be intimidated by external forces” when it comes to tobacco legislation.

The standoff, therefore, looks set to continue.


By Cillian Donnelly for EU Spectator



A view of Cyprus - Before and afterMelissa HekkersMelissa Hekkers


Posted 14/02/2015

By Melissa Hekkers


As the Cypriot Central Bank Governor told investors that recession-hit Cyprus will shake off its three-year downturn in 2015 during the week, there’s little consolation for those who have had to adapt to a new challenging reality that was imposed upon them on that sunny morning of March 2013.

It’s perhaps daunting to even begin to depict the effects of the violation the Cypriot population felt when they were lured into agreeing to a severe austerity programme and a profound restructuring of its bloated financial sector.



The changes on the ground were of course of a financial nature; the traumatic ideology that prevailed when the government was forced to close all the island’s banks for nearly two weeks introduced a new milestone to our nature.

But considering that Cypriots had already gone through another, different natured crisis not so long ago, their approach seemed somewhat nostalgic.

Perhaps prompted by the memories of the 1974 war, it felt like some locals and especially those who had experienced the war reacted via a dormant old mechanism within them; a defence mechanism which was appropriated by our forefathers and inherited by the second generation (the post-war generation).                 The common rhetoric was this: if they had made it through the war, they could make it through this crisis too.

And it wasn’t until I was introduced to local documentary photographer, Alexia Makridou’s most recent work that I began contemplating a parallel of this nostalgic ‘before and after’ approach to the war and that of our current financial crisis. Allow me to elaborate.

As a central drive to her project entitled ‘Before-after’ she questions: “Can other people’s memories become our own?”


This is the very question Makridou asked herself before confronting the narratives of refugees from Ammochostos (Famagusta) in the occupied areas of the island which admittedly have become a big part of her own childhood memories, despite the fact that she was born post 1974. Whilst she attempts to shed light on whether people’s memories can indeed become our own, Markidou has put together an archive of photographs and items collected from Ammochostos, interviews and portraits of refugees, images from personal belongings saved which all focus on the engagement with the losses of the past. Artistically, she explores the processes by which private memories of trauma are transmitted to second generation members and aims to investigate the insights that can be carried from the past to the newly challenging present.

So what about if we were to stop a minute and contemplate on the impact the current crisis is going to have on the up and coming second generation; our children for example? Will our memories (considering we will endure the end of the crisis) have an impact on that generation? Will our memories of this turbulent crisis become their own?

Segregating the narratives of survivors and ‘receivers’, if you like, is then of substance. As Makridou asserts through quoting Polish American writer and academic, Eva Hoffman, “The second generation is the hinge generation in which received, transferred knowledge of events is transmuted into history, or into myth...Post-memory is then described as the relationship that the ‘generation after’ bears to the personal, collective, and cultural trauma of those who came before – to experiences they ‘remember’ only by means of the stories, images, and behaviours among which they grew up…However, post-memory is not identical to memory: it is ‘post’; but, at the same time it approximates memory in its affective force and its psychic effects.”

Being a member of the second generation, Makridou is perhaps in a ‘better’ place to understand and get to the roots of the impact of her forefather’s memories.

As she admits: “My feelings about my family hometown are very strong. My family believes, for the past 40 years now, that we will return to our house soon. How can you escape from a reality like this one?”

Indeed, should we project ourselves, how can one escape from our current reality?

Just as Makridou was raised in Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, knowing that it is not her permanent city of residence for there is still a strong hope for refugee’s return home, most of us, if not all also want to return to a familiar setting, one which existed before we entered this financial turmoil.



Embracing this notion then implies that these narratives are eternal imprints which haven’t solely marked Makridou, but a whole generation; a generation that is marked for life and perhaps needs to be relieved from the burden.

“Working closely with the pain of my family and also with their hope and desire to return back to their homeland, through my work, I attempted to spin a yarn of nostalgia, homesickness and desire to return to our roots,” said Makridou.

Delving into the harsh reality that is explicitly witnessed on a daily basis nowadays, and not just in Cyprus but currently in countries such as Spain or Greece, the stories we tell lend a hand to flourishing this nostalgia; the rhetoric we use to identify our situation are all building blocks in our memory. And if we acknowledge, just for a moment, that these memories may be transcended from one generation to another, it’s perhaps wise to begin to look more towards the future, as opposed to the past, and indeed shake off our three-year downturn, and create other, more positive memories, that will leave optimistic imprints in our minds, and that of others.


By Melissa Hekkers for EU Spectator - Photos by Alexia Makridou



Countries suffering economic woes have increased prison populations – human rights reportCillian DonnellyCillian Donnelly


Posted 11/02/2015

By Cillian Donnelly


Some of the worst hit counties by the economic crisis have also experienced an increase in prison populations, according to new figures released on 11 February.

Since 2007, the prison populations in EU Member States Belgium, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Portugal and Slovakia saw an increase of around 20% in the amount of prison inmates, according to a new report launched by the human rights body the Council of Europe (CoE).

Prison population rate per 100,000 per yearPrison population rate per 100,000 per year


The annual report, the Council of Europe Annual Penal Statistics (SPACE report), which includes figures compiled to the end of 2013, examines the state of prisons within the 47 Member States of the CoE, and looks at various aspects of national penal systems including general trends, overcrowding, and pre-trial detentions.

The report identified that a longer trend of countries undergoing economic hardship are also experiencing a rise in prison population. In the period 2007-2013, the prison population rose by about 2.7 % across Europe, including countries hardest hit by the economic recession, such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal.

Those imprisoned on drug-related offences were the highest proportion of inmates during this period. This reached a peak in 2013 when drug-related incarcerations represented 18.8 % of the overall prison population in Europe.

According to the authors of the report, “undoubtedly the countries that were the most affected by the negative consequences of the European financial crisis have not succeeded in reducing or at least stabilising their prison population rates.”

However, in the same period, EU Member States, the Czech Republic, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden all saw a decrease in their prison populations.

In the period 2012-2013, the general trend saw a decrease in the total number of inmates in Europe.




According to the SPACE report, there are currently 1,679,217 prison inmates in Europe. This is down from the 2012 figure of 1,735,911.

However, the report warns that despite the decrease in the raw number of inmates, the median European prison Population Rate (PPR) increased by about 5% in 2013.

In 2012, the PPR was 127 inmates per 100,000 inhabitants, rising to 134 inmates per 100,000 in 2013.

On average, 5.6% of inmates were women and 23.5% were foreign nationals.

In total, the amount spent by European prison administrations in 2012 was € 25.4 billion, with an average of € 97 per day per prisoner being spent (ranging from € 2 per day in Russia to € 317 per day in Sweden).

Overcrowding continues to be a major problem for European prisons. In the EU, Italy remains the country with the highest prison population density, with 148 inmates per 100 prison places. This is followed by Hungary (145 inmates) Cyprus (138), Belgium (134) Portugal (117), France (117), Romania (116) and Croatia (111).

Greece has the highest amount of juveniles in the prison population at 3.8 %.

The most common offences for which prisoners were being held were drug offences (17.8 % median value), theft (15.9 %), robbery (13.5 %) and homicide (11.6 %).

The Council of Europe is a 47-member state body that monitors and evaluates the human rights records of its members, which includes countries from the EU, the caucuses, south-east Europe and central Asia, including Russia.

It is currently operating under the six-month rotating chairmanship of Belgium, which, according to the SPACE report has not only one of the highest rates of prison density in Europe, but also one of the countries with the highest rates of foreign nationals in prison (42.9 %) and one of the highest proportions of prisoners serving sentences of over 20 years (7 %, compared to a European average of 2.3 %).


By Cillian Donnelly for EU Spectator



New King Felipe VI euro coins go into circulation


Posted 05/02/2015


New euro coins bearing the image of Spain’s King Felipe VI went into circulation this week. The one-euro and two-euro pieces made their debut nearly eight months after Felipe succeeded his father, the former King Juan Carlos, on June 19 last year.

The coins bear the 47-year-old king’s profile in a pose similar to that of his father, who has appeared on the Spanish version of the euro coin since the European monetary unit was introduced in 1999.


In a statement, the Economy Ministry said the old coins with Juan Carlos’ image would continue to be valid throughout the euro zone but will gradually be replaced.

Around four million new coins were minted in January after being approved in October

Around four million new coins were minted in January after being approved by the ministry’s treasury and financial policy division in October. But part of the delay in putting the new coins into circulation was attributed to the Royal Mint, which had already issued its quota of newly minted currency when the handover of the crown took place last year.


Felipe assumed the Spanish throne after Juan Carlos stepped down in June following a nearly 39-year reign. A special €30 collectors’ coin bearing Felipe's image was issued at the end of 2014.

Countries may issue a commemorative 2-euro coin once a year to celebrate a subject of major national or European relevance.

Commemorative coins are legal tender throughout the euro area, and have the same features and properties as regular 2-euro coins. What makes them different is the special design on the national side. For example, Greece issued one in 2004 to celebrate the Athens Olympic Games.

 Each of the euro-area countries uses familiar or traditional motifs and icons for the standard design of the national sides of their coins.            For example, Irish coins show the same harp design and lettering found on its coinage before adopting the euro, while Belgian coins bear a profile of King Albert II. Some countries have a different design for each coin denomination; others apply the same design to all. Whichever is the case, all the national sides bear a common symbol: the twelve stars of the European flag.

 Member States are not allowed to change the design of their national sides, except in the case of coins which show the head of state. In that case the coin design may be changed when the head of state changes, or at 15-year intervals to reflect changes in his or her appearance.            A temporary vacancy or provisional occupation of the function of head of state does not give the right to change the design of the national sides of regular euro coins, but can be reflected in a commemorative coin.