Croatia-Slovenia: ‘Finally! The obstacles have been cleared. In 114 days, we will be in the EU.’
8 March 2013
Croatia and Slovenia concluded an agreement on March 7 to settle a banking dispute that has divided the two countries for 20 years, clearing the way for Croatia’s accession to the EU on July 1, 2013.
According to the memorandum, which will now be signed by the heads of government from both countries on March 11 in Ljubljana, negotiations on the long standing financial wrangle will continue under the auspices of the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland. For its part, Croatia has pledged to abandon on-running legal action against the Slovenian bank, Ljubljanska Banka.
Between now and the end of March, the Slovenian parliament is set to ratify the treaty on Croatian accession to the EU, which has already been approved by 21 of the EU’s 27 member states.
Czech Republic: Farewell to Europe’s troublemaker Václav Klaus
7 March 2013
Hospodářské Noviny Prague
The end of the Czech president’s mandate on March 7 marks the departure from the European stage of a controversial figure and high-profile Eurosceptic. But behind his provocations, lay a lack of political vision.
In many ways a medium-sized Central European country could hardly have wished for a better president: an experienced, energetic and erudite politician of international standing able to engage both with the big European issues and handle the domestic problems thrown up by fractious politicians and crumbling coalition governments.
A president tough-minded enough to periodically remind its citizens that they were living not in an impoverished mafia state, but in a tolerably well-administered, reasonably prosperous, if inevitably flawed, European democracy.
As president, during the last 10 years Václav Klaus has been all of these things.
But he has also been a blisteringly controversial head of state, whose views have often been sharply at odds with most of his fellow politicians or fellow citizens. Provocative and unignorable, Klaus has been loved and (more often) loathed at both home and abroad, making him as his Czech biographer Lubomír Kopeček rightly terms him, a political phenomenon.
But what lasting impact does his 10 year period in office really leave?
Defining a presidency
If Klaus's time as ODS [the largest liberal conservative party, founded by Václav Klaus in 1991] leader and prime minister [1992-1997] were largely defined by economic transformation, his presidency has been defined by European integration and the Czech place within Europe.
Klaus had been a critic of the EU since early 1990s and his concern with the nature of Czech statehood dates from the same period. His move towards a more traditional view of Czech national interests as defined against those of Germany and the German-speaking world also dates from before his presidency – from approximately the period of the Opposition Agreement.
But as president his publically expressed views on European integration radicalised markedly. The EU is no longer just a set of institutions constraining Czech statehood and individual freedom, but is now seen as an almost existential ideological threat. "Europe-ism" becomes the most visible part of a many-headed hydra taking in "post-democracy", concerns over global warning, "homosexualism", "humanrights-ism" and other Klaus bugbears. Integration had no longer merely to be corrected and braked, but thrown into reverse to create a Europe of nation states and free markets.
Pressure on the eurozone
Such a radicalisation partly reflects the greater political freedom the presidency offers. Surrounded by an entourage of his own choosing, the president was no longer encumbered by the need to compromise with party and coalition colleagues. It also reflected the changing Europe context: Klaus’s presidency coincided with the EU Constitution and its successor the Lisbon Treaty, which proved a powerful focus for him.
The eruption of the eurozone crisis – where Klaus’s early scepticism about the Euro proved well founded – only served to define Klaus in terms of EU issues.
At the same time, however, Klaus’s euroscepticism remained oddly abstract: we knew what he feared – and most certainly what he opposed – but little about what practical steps he wanted taken. While other eurosceptics, both in the Czech Republic and elsewhere, championed options ranging from flexible integration to à la carte Europe or full blown withdrawal from the EU, Klaus’s extensive writings and speeches offer no specific programme or strategy for the European questions that preoccupied him.
Moreover, in practical political terms Klaus's two presidential terms were a story of defeats and climb downs.
Limited reach of his ideology
Despite leaving the ODS in 2009 and saying that the Czech Republic needed a new eurosceptic conservative party, he failed to found – or even to endorse – one. Instead he was confined a destabilising, off stage presence in the internal politics of ODS, gaining some political leverage over the Topolánek and Nečas governments as their parliamentary majorities dissolved.
But Klaus’s defeats conceal a deeper truth. The brand of eurosceptic conservative nationalism developed by Klaus in the later part of his political career, while it appeals to some, has ultimately limited support in Czech society. This was true in 2002 when the failure of an election campaign based on "national interests" first led Klaus to seek the presidency. And it was true in 2013, when, polls suggest, most ODS supporters backed Karel Schwarzenberg despite Klaus’s rejection of him as not properly Czech. Euroscepticism and nationalism, where they appeal to Czech voters at all, appeal to those on the left close to KSČM.
Klaus hailed Miloš Zeman’s victory by ironically quoting Vaclav Havel's words about the truth and love overcoming lies and hate. But the greater irony is perhaps that – despite vast gulf in political outlook and personality that separated them, Klaus’s presidency revealed many of the same failings and limitations as that of Havel: a head of state preoccupied by a grand political vision trapped by the constitutional weaknesses of his office; the weakness of public and political backing for his ideas; and the limited weight of his country on the international stage.
Romania: The EU must stop stepping on our toes
7 March 2013
Jurnalul Naţional Bucharest
Germany has announced that it will veto the entry of Romania and Bulgaria into the Schengen Area. Perhaps it is time for Romanians to stop being the victims of their partners' political games, writes a Romanian journalist in a leader article.
In the midst of an election year, Germany is playing a card already put on the table by Italy, the Netherlands, France, and the United Kingdom showing that remnants of superior and contemptuous behaviour towards the East are still alive and well.
Thus, the official announcement by the German Interior Minister, Hans-Peter Friedrich, warning that Romania and Bulgaria will be greeted by a "veto" at the meeting of the Justice and Internal Affairs council scheduled for March 7, is a confirmation of the obsessions and internal political games of the countries of the EU – a far cry from the principal of equality of treatment for members of the Union.
Romania is once again left on the doorstep of the Schengen Area, and, once again, for reasons that have nothing to do with the requirements for joining. Undoubtedly, Friedrich (CSU – Christian Social Union), a coalition partner of [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel and her Christian Democratic Union, reflects the point of view of the coalition in power in Germany (CDU/CSU) and highlights the electoral stress under which the coalition must operate.
Germany's legendary rectitude has evaporated when one of the leaders of the EU "engine" confuses domestic politics for European politics. Referring to an internal electoral issue, the allocation of social benefits, the German minister speaks about the corruption of the visa system in Romania and Bulgaria. "Those who come only to collect social benefits, and who thus abuse the right of freedom of movement, must be stopped," such is the comment of a minister in power.
The Schengen problem was already treated in the same manner by former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and former French President Nicolas Sarkozy. This diversion tactic, used by the old Europeans to distract public opinion from sensitive domestic issues, is part of a set of tools that renders the EU less and less credible because it is less and less capable of solving its problems.
Recently, the attitude of the United Kingdom, which openly says it will refuse to respect European accords on providing access to the labour market to Bulgarians and Romanians, as of January 1, 2014, also confirms a dispiriting trend within the Union. Using incendiary language, Prime Minister David Cameron brandishes the idea of an invasion of workers coming from the two countries that would have a negative impact on the jobs of Britons. He too is using the foreigner card to re-gild his image back home.
None of this would have been possible if, in Bucharest, the government behaved in a correct and constant manner regarding domestic policies and towards the people. None of Romania's foreign affairs or interior ministers has paid or will pay for the governments' failures and even less for the insulting treatment inflicted by the EU countries on European citizens of Romanian origin.
Picking on Romania
According to the Romanian Foreign Affairs Minister Titus Corlăţean, "Romania has, de facto, ensured the external borders of the EU since it joined in January 2007. [...] Technical evaluation missions show that all of the Schengen provisions have been implemented in a uniform and correct manner". As a consequence, it is normal to wonder why the European Union is picking on Romania. How much longer will technical issues continue to be used as political and economic blackmail?
The reaction of the foreign affairs minister [saying that Bucharest "would not be interested" in case of another veto,] which was approved by Prime Minister Victor Ponta and rejected by President Traian Băsescu, clearly expresses a social reality, one at least as true as that expressed by Hans-Peter Friedrich: Romanians, who understand the stakes, are tired of Europe's politics of blackmail.
In February, alarmed by the position of Turkey – a important partner at the crossroads between East and West and a member of NATO – Angela Merkel went to Ankara to talk to the Turkish prime minister who is looking more closely at Asia and China now that talks to join the EU are stalled indefinitely.
It is thus possible for the leaders of the EU countries to act according to pressure coming not only from West to East but in the opposite direction as well. For at a time when the United Kingdom is calling for a referendum to exit the Union, perhaps should Romania stop unconditionally accepting to be a market for the products of the blackmail of the larger EU countries.
View from Germany: Beware of prejudices
In the wake of Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich's remarks on immigrants from the rest of Europe, the German press has come out to criticise the prejudices against the Romanians, Bulgarians, and particularly the Roma of these two countries.
In a list of the “Six truths about Roma in Germany" the tabloid Bild says that while "many immigrants are poor and some heavily indebted municipalities must spend millions of euros to come to their rescue,” there is "no mass immigration" of Roma into Germany.
Bild says that "80 per cent of immigrants from Bulgaria and Romania have found a regular job,” and that there are no statistics on the proportion of Roma among Bulgarian and Romanian criminals.
Die Tageszeitung, in turn, notes that
Romanians and Bulgarians with training come here to work. [...]. The fact is, though, that not all of them do find a job. To refer to a 'Roma Express' [...] is a vicious innuendo that is far from accidental. [...] The readiness to see one's own wellbeing under constant threat is a typical German sensitivity. [...] Sometimes it's threatened by the Greeks, sometimes by asylum seekers – but no one fits the bill as well as the Roma. No other group raises as many negative associations, and the Union [of Christian Democrats] has done everything to keep it that way.
Central Europe: Merkel and Hollande join Visegrad Group
7 March 2013
Gazeta Wyborcza, Pravda
“It’s a breakthrough, but for the time being, only in thinking,” said Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk after the Warsaw meeting of the Visegrad Group. The leaders of the Central European alliance sat down with French President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on March 6 to discuss plans to coordinate the group’s defence policy.
Gazeta Wyborcza stresses the summit was the first such meeting of the Visegrad 4 (V4) with Merkel and Hollande, something that would have been unthinkable for example during Jacques Chirac’s presidency. “Even though the cooperation between the Visegrad Group countries has never been as smooth as with the Scandinavian countries”, the daily notes -
This is not the same Europe [as during Chirac’s times]. Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and even crisis-hit Hungary are not posing such problems to Europe as the countries of the south.
Also the Slovak daily Pravda underlines the presence of Merkel-Hollande at the V4 summit in Warsaw and further reports that "Slovakia will participate in a special Visegrad battle group". The V4 countries signed a letter of intent to set up a joint defence battle group until 2016 composed of approximately 3,000 soldiers. Poland would assure the main part of the unit’s military strength, up to 1,600 soldiers, with the Czech Republic offering mainly paramedics and logistics, while Hungary provides military engineering and Slovakia the expertise on weapons of mass destruction.
Ireland: Debt breathing space but no salvation
7 March 2013
The EU has agreed an extension for Ireland and Portugal to give them more time to repay their bailout loans. Meeting on March 5, the 27 finance ministers hailed their “successful steps” towards re-entering the markets.
Under the deal, the troika of the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund will agree a new repayment schedule for a significant chunk of Ireland’s €40bn in bailout loans that had been due to be repaid before 2016. However, for Irish Independent columnist David McWilliams, the deal is little more than a “gentleman’s default” designed to buy time. He warns –
The Irish economy may emerge from the bailout unreformed and weaker, unlike the original plan. [...] We can see that the EU needs a victory in Ireland because its entire "austerity works" strategy is based on Ireland squeezing itself out of the bailout next year. [...] All that has happened is the debt pack is reshuffled to avoid a principal default but the economy is not just fragile but less able to take on the challenges of the globalisation.
In a sense this might be the worst of all worlds – a fictitious victory based on kicking the debt problem out to future generations.
03/08/2013 12:27 PM
The Fragility of Trust: Neo-Nazi Victims Seek Peace with Germany
By Beate Lakotta
Semiya Simsek's family was torn apart 13 years ago when her father was murdered in Nuremberg by a neo-Nazi terror cell. Even worse, German authorities for years suspected the family had been involved. Now, as one of the killing spree's perpetrators is set to go on trial, the Simseks are trying to find peace with Germany.
The toothless old woman is singing in a rasping voice and beating a tambourine, as she performs the song of the henna night, the bride's last night in her parent's home. "Yüksek, yüksek tepelere...," she sings, as the other women join in, dancing around the woman seated in the middle, Semiya Simsek, wearing her wedding dress. She is the daughter of Enver Simsek, the son of a shepherd from the village of Salur, who went to Germany to find a better life. And died there.
"Oh, if my father had a horse, he would ride to me," the old woman sings. But no horse is bringing back Semiya's father, who is buried in the cemetery a few steps away. The house stood empty for almost 13 years when Simsek was in Germany. But then he came home, with a crushed skull and three bullets in his head.
They had said their goodbyes after it happened: his widow Adile, beside herself with sadness and fear, the two children Semiya and Kerim, 14 and 13, his brothers and the men of the village, all of them praying silently.
Today they are dancing in Enver's house, the dwelling filled with life once again -- with love, tears, hopes, old pain, images of Semiya under her veil and memories of Enver under a white shroud. They can still picture their father lying on the bed brought from Frankfurt, with its rubbed varnish finish, under a ceiling made of mud and the trunks of poplar trees. Enver had grown prosperous as a flower merchant in faraway Germany. He had made the pilgrimage to Mecca with his wife, and people looked up to him in the village. His honor had been soiled by the mystery of his death. After all, who is shot and killed for nothing?
Look, says Semiya today, my father wasn't the way you think he was. I'm not the daughter of an adulterer, liar and drug dealer. They shot him to death because he was Turkish.
On Saturday, Sept. 9, 2000, passersby reported to police that there was an abandoned flower stand on the outskirts of Nuremberg. There was a folding table and there were bouquets under an umbrella, and there was also a white Mercedes Sprinter van with the words "Simsek Flowers" painted on its side. Everything was in its place, except the vendor.
In the Back of the Van
They found him in the back of the delivery van, lying among the sunflowers, lilies and chrysanthemums. He had been shot to death with eight bullets at close range. His murderers had continued to fire at him when he was already on the ground. Simsek was alive but no longer responsive. He died two days later.
The murder weapon, a Ceska pistol, finally turned up 11 years and nine murders later, in the wreckage of an apartment in the eastern German city of Zwickau. Beate Zschäpe had set the apartment on fire, after the police had found the bodies of her apartment-mates, Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos. Mundlos had shot Böhnhardt and then turned the gun on himself. Enver Simsek, as his daughter Semiya learned from a television report in November 2011, was the first of 10 victims in a series of murders committed by a neo-Nazi group calling itself the National Socialist Underground (NSU). While the police were investigating her family, her father's murderers had disappeared from sight and managed to remain undetected for almost 14 years.
In that moment, it seemed as if her life was falling apart. After her father's death, Semiya had begun to erect internal walls, living her life in defense mode, as she fought off fears, suspicions and rumors. Now she is fighting to leave it all behind.
It's a Sunday afternoon in 2013. Semiya is visiting her aunt and uncle in Friedberg, a town in the western German state of Hesse. Her brother and two cousins are also there. They are watching a video of the extended family at a barbecue next to a lake, when the children were still young. "Look how sweet they are!" the uncle says proudly. Then Enver appears, cleaning fish, eating melon and playing with Semiya, his little princess. After the meal, everyone dances in the grass.
The family watches these old videos again and again. "It's unbelievable what a happy life we had," says Semiya.
Until recently, when someone asked how their father had died, they would say it was "an accident." Now Semiya wants everyone to know about the injuries of the past. She wants Germany and its legal system to take responsibility. Semiya, together with journalist Peter Schwarz, has written a book. She likens the work to a "bucket of vomit." Fortunately, this isn't apparent in the book.
'The Good Victims'
She immersed herself in the files for weeks, hoping to reclaim her life and purify it, and clarify her relationship with Germany, the country she calls home. In part, she is motivated to do so because Germany had suddenly discovered a new relationship with her. For years, no one seemed interested in the series of murders. And then, from one day to the next, she was inundated with sympathy and compassion. "Suddenly we were no longer seen practically as perpetrators, but as the good victims."
They were invited to receptions with the German president, the Bavarian interior minister met with them to exchange ideas, memorial trees were planted in Nuremberg for victims of the NSU killing spree, and strangers sent her letters, writing: "Germany is also your country. You are part of it!"
"I could have used the sympathy back then," says Semiya. She is pleased about the letters, but some encounters make her feel uncomfortable in a new way. She doesn't want to be used as a stage prop in an emotional retrospective. She says: "I will evaluate the big words. And I'll look closely at how Germany conducts the trial."
The trial against the accomplices of her father's murders begins in Munich on April 17. Semiya Simsek will be there. As a joint plaintiff, she has the right to review court documents and ask questions: Why did the neo-Nazis pick my father? What did they know about my family? How could they have remained underground for so long? She even invited her German attorneys to her wedding. She wants answers to her questions.
She doesn't want to be a victim anymore, not even a good one.
When it happened, more than 13 years ago, her mother Adile, exhausted after selling flowers all day, was sitting in front of the TV with her feet up, waiting for her husband to come home. When the doorbell rang at shortly before 10 p.m., two policemen walked into her living room, carrying weapons and speaking curtly. Adile understood that Enver was half-dead. Was it an accident, she asked? No, he had been shot. She collapsed. By whom? Why? That was what the police wanted to know from her. Adile realized that they didn't believe her, that they couldn't see her fear and pain, and that she was a suspect.
She was questioned for hours at a time in the ensuing months. She still has nightmares about how the officers banged their fists on the table and shouted: It's time you told us what you know!
On other occasions, officers would visit her at home, sit on her sofa, drink her tea, eat her baked goods and torture her with their suspicions. Your husband, Frau Simsek, had a dark side, they would say: alcohol, a gambling addiction, the Mafia, drug-dealing. The family refused to believe it. On the other hand, they also trusted the authorities, which only made things worse. Today the Simseks ask themselves whether the police would have leveled the same suspicions if the victim had been German.
The investigations cast a posthumous shadow over the father's life, pouring the insidious poison of doubt over everything that had been true and beautiful before: the family's love, its lightheartedness and its cohesion. "How long does trust last?" Semiya asks in her book. "How often do you have to beat it until it becomes thin and breaks?"
According to the interrogation records, when the inspector asked Adile about her marriage, she said: "My husband and I never had any problems. I loved him very much. We had a good marriage. I don't know why I should go on living." The inspector wanted to know whether they had sex regularly. Some of the interrogations lasted an entire day and Adile was only allowed to go home for prayers. The police bugged Enver's delivery van, and for months they tapped the family's phones, even though they had no concrete evidence against them.
They also questioned the family's friends and relatives, asking questions like: "Can you imagine that Enver had a mistress? That Adile and her brothers were capable of murder?" News of the case -- that German officials suspected the family of being involved in the murder -- ultimately reached Enver's native village of Salur.
A Broken Bond with Germany
The police confronted Adile's brother and showed him a photo of a young woman. "According to our investigation, Enver had a girlfriend," they told him. "I can't believe it," he said, "but if it's true, his death would have been justified." They said to Adile: "We have learned that Enver brought cutting agents for heroin from the Netherlands to Germany." "I can't imagine that," she replied. After all, she said, they had made the pilgrimage to Mecca and had led a godly life. Was it supported with drug money all those years? Impossible.
But how long does trust last?
"Frau Simsek begins to cry," the interrogation report reads. "She has an angry outburst and rips up the photo of Enver lying on the desk in front of her."
The second murder occurred three-quarters of a year later and no connection between the victims was found. The Simseks slowly felt the pressure of the investigation subsiding; the police, it would seem, no longer suspected the family in Enver's murder. Nevertheless, the cloud of suspicion lasted for the next 10 years, and they weren't the only ones it affected.
Nine of the victims had only one thing in common: They looked Turkish. Yet the "Baden-Württemberg Operational Case Analysis" professed to have uncovered other shared elements. According to the 2007 report, the victims were likely part of a group that earned "a living with illegal activities." The only possible suspects, the report concluded, were those who did "not feel in the least bit bound to our norms and values."
The killing spree continued, dubbed the "Döner Murders" in the press. An article in SPIEGEL wrote that the killers were protected by the "almost impenetrable parallel world of the Turks."
"We felt left alone and vulnerable," says Semiya. "It wasn't just us, but all Turks. Because it didn't stop." And because it seemed that they were the only one to be outraged by the fact that someone was going around the country, murdering foreigners.
But whom did they suspect? "At first we thought there might be a dispute among flower merchants. Then, after the second murder, we thought it might be someone who had had bad experiences with Turks," says Semiya. Perhaps a madman. But Nazis? That was impossible, they thought for a long time.
'We Trusted Them'
The police had always said: What's missing is a clue linking the killings. "We thought to ourselves: They're the experts, and they should know. We trusted them."
On the day before her wedding, Semiya went to the grave, where wild herbs and flowers were growing. She had been going there for years, whenever she went to Turkey on vacation. She would pray at the grave and speak to her father: We miss you. How could you leave us so alone? Why did this happen?
After Simsek's death, Adile's brother tried to continue running the business. But he became fearful during trips to the wholesale flower market in Rotterdam. He would stand at a rest area and think to himself: Is someone going to come up to me and ask me to transport drugs? And if I say no, will they shoot me?
The family lived in constant fear. They began locking their doors and looking around nervously while walking outside at night. They couldn't keep the business afloat. After living without financial worries, they were now welfare recipients with a mountain of debt. Adile despaired at the prospect of going it alone with the children.
No one helped them after Enver's death, no trauma therapy specialists and no victims' assistance organizations. The other families were in no better shape, as they struggled with the perception of lost honor, doubts and feelings of shame. One family even had to clean up the father's blood from the floor where he had died.
After a while, the family stopped looking for answers. Adile's depression became permanent. She moved back to Turkey, not to the house in Salur, where she had nightmares about her dead husband, but to the city of Isparta. The children studied in Germany, and Semiya became a social worker. While on vacation in Turkey, she fell in love with a man named Fatih. The suspicions against her father began to fade into the fabric of everyday life.
On that Friday evening in November, when the case was finally solved, everything came rushing back: the images of her father in the hospital, the blood-soaked pillow, her despairing mother, the interrogations, the fears, the sense of powerlessness and the question mark at the edge of her consciousness: What if he did have a dark side, after all?
'Killed Him a Second Time'
Now, finally, everyone could see that there was no blemish on his reputation at all.
After the father's murder had been solved, Semiya's brother Kerim felt sick for weeks, and Semiya went to a friend's house to cry on her shoulder. "The neo-Nazis shot him to death," says Semiya. But she blames others for the question marks and the loss of trust. "The German authorities killed him a second time."
Enver's daughter has returned to the village of her ancestors in the foothills of the Taurus Mountains for her wedding. The village is covered with deep snowdrifts in the winter, and in the summer the trees are heavy with fruit, as the men sit in front of the café in their striped shirts and flat caps. Enver was a respected man in Salur. He didn't forget his village, buying computers for the school and donating money for new wells and the local mosque. The villagers had nothing but praise for him. But after he died, people wondered: Is it really possible to make so much money with flowers?
Then they heard Semiya speaking on television a year ago, at a memorial ceremony in Berlin to honor the victims of the NSU killing spree. Enver's daughter spoke after the German chancellor. The café in Salur was packed, with everyone looking up at the TV set hanging from the ceiling in the corner. "We were unable to mourn him and say goodbye in peace. For 11 years, we were not even allowed to be victims with a clear conscience," Semiya said in faraway Berlin. The villagers also felt that her words were directed at them. "We all had goose bumps," one resident recalls.
Now the people of Salur are paying close attention to Germany's handling of the affair. "They dragged his name through the mud, without any evidence," said one villager. "It was character assassination, a disgrace for the village." Another resident said: "The Turks were portrayed as criminals. Now they see that we're not so bad, after all. We were pleased that Merkel realized this and apologized."
But can the German government be trusted? Hadn't some of the records pertaining to the case been destroyed?
On the day of the memorial service in Berlin, Semiya also wasn't sure what to think of this new Germany. The German president had held a reception that morning, with the country's top politicians in attendance. Andreas Vosskuhle, the president of the Federal Constitutional Court, came to the table where the Simseks were sitting. Vosskuhle is the highest-ranking representative of the German judiciary. He said he found it incomprehensible that such a thing could have happened and assured the family that other German officials were dismayed as well. Semiya told him how the families had demonstrated in Kassel, a city in central Germany, in 2006. "First the Jews, then the Turks. Who's next?" one of the banners read. By that time, they were convinced that the murderers were right-wing extremists.
Betrayal and Conspiracy
"Really? Five years ago?" Vosskuhle asked, sounding shocked. "We never read anything about that, or at least I didn't."
"No one took us seriously," Semiya replied. "No one believed us." Vosskuhle said nothing in response.
For 11 years, she had been seen as the daughter of a drug dealer, and now she was sitting with the country's political elites, as a family member of an innocent murder victim whose death was being commemorated by an orchestra playing works by Johann Sebastian Bach. The chancellor asked the families for forgiveness for the false suspicions. Children came into the room carrying candles, and Semiya saw politicians with tears in their eyes.
After the event, Chancellor Angela Merkel went up to Semiya and told her how pleased she was that she had referred to Germany as "my country" in her remarks. I wanted to be able to trust again, Semiya thought, but it's easy to make an apology.
The chancellor had promised that the investigation would now be conducted "at full speed." But what Semiya has heard since then is a lot of mutual recrimination and reports of failure: shredded documents, scandals involving confidential informants, police officers in the Ku Klux Klan, and theories of betrayal and conspiracy.
On the evening before their wedding, Semiya and Kerim are sitting with their attorneys, Jens Rabe and Stephan Lucas, on the terrace of the house that was abandoned for so long. There is a view of the mountains where Enver tended sheep as a boy, the same Enver Simsek whose death will now be part of one of the biggest criminal trials in postwar German history, with a 488-page indictment and hundreds of binders filled with documents. Enver's children are taking every opportunity to prepare for the trial. The attorneys are already almost part of the family.
So Near, So Far Away
Shortly after the murder series had been cleared up, Semiya watched the video manifesto -- complete with music from the Pink Panther cartoon -- which Beate Zschäpe, the only surviving member of the neo-Nazi terror cell, had dropped into the mail after the deaths of her partners. In it, the killers looked at her father as he lay in his blood, bent over him and took a picture.
"I feel no hatred toward that woman," says Semiya. "I can't imagine what it will be like when we look each other in the eye. But I want to see justice served. I want to know whether the authorities covered anything up. I want to have closure." Attorney Rabe is skeptical. "It won't be a grand truth commission," he says. "It's just a criminal trial. Of course, one can try to criticize the government for its failings. But the defendant is Beate Zschäpe, not the Federal Republic of Germany."
Before the wedding, the attorneys visit Enver's brothers, hoping to convince them to testify in court. One of the brothers, Yusuf, still tends sheep in the mountains and lives in a simple mud house, where they sit on the floor. His wife brings us tea. "I have carried the pain of Enver's loss with me for 12 years," he says. "His child is getting married tomorrow, and her father won't be there. The child will feel a great emptiness." There are tears running down his face.
"If my brother hadn't died, I would have been an important man in the village, and not someone people point at," says Yusuf. But why go to court? "I don't trust Germany. It was Germans who killed my brother." In the end, however, the family council decides that everyone will participate -- for the family honor, for Enver and for his children.
In the afternoon, a marching band performs in the courtyard, with drums, cymbals and a wind instrument called a Zurna. The wedding party assembles for the giving away of the bride, an old ceremony. Traditionally, the father of the bride places a red ribbon around his daughter, as a sign of fertility, and entrusts her to the care of her future family, in a ritual that is both a farewell and a new beginning. There is no specific place in the house where the ritual is supposed to occur, and the wedding guests, looking serious, stand in front of the door to the room where Enver's body was laid out, wrapped in a shroud nine meters (30 feet) long. Semiya's brother Kerim, his face ashen with exertion, assumes the role of the father.
Never was the father so near, and yet so far away, as in that moment.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
03/07/2013 04:27 PM
Göring's List: Should Israel Honor a Leading Nazi's Brother?
By Gerhard Spörl
Leading Nazi Hermann Göring was instrumental to Hitler's reign of terror, but research suggests his brother Albert saved the lives of dozens of Jews. Israel must now decide whether he deserves to be honored as one of the "Righteous Among the Nations."
Hermann Göring's younger brother Albert, of all people, rescued Jews from the Nazis, and yet his story is forgotten. But why?
Irena Steinfeldt looks nervously at the clock to reassure herself that she isn't too late for her appointment at the Café Paradiso in downtown Jerusalem. She sits down, shakes her hair and gazes intently through her glasses.
It is important to her to set something straight right away. It really doesn't matter to her, she says, what someone's name was or what rank he had at the time, if he had rescued only one or several Jews and had proven himself to be a good person at a bad time. The true heroes, who remain good throughout their lives, are extremely rare, she says, and they certainly didn't exist at the time of the Holocaust.
Steinfeldt has plenty of experience with the all-too-human. Her desk is covered with letters, documents and files that tell stories of how people acted benevolently in bad times, of islands of good in an ocean of evil. She passes judgment over what it takes to be called a hero. She also helps to decide who will receive the highest honorary title conferred by the State of Israel, a title whose recipients, whether it is awarded during their lifetimes or posthumously, are known as the "Righteous Among the Nations."
Steinfeldt works at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, where she runs the department that receives nominations for individuals to be accepted into this circle of nobility. She checks the nominations, does additional research, sometimes asks the submitters to correct something and, only when everything seems to be watertight, forwards the nomination to a commission of 10 Holocaust survivors, who then decide whether a candidate truly deserves to be accepted into the circle of the "Righteous."
It isn't a very large group. Since it was created in 1953, the title has been awarded to 24,356 people from 47 countries. They include 510 Germans, such as the pastoral aid worker Cläre Barwitzky, who rescued 30 children from deportation near the French town of Chamonix in 1943, and Willi Ahrem, the commandant of a forced labor camp, who warned Jews and concealed them when the SS was approaching with the intent to kill them.
For some time, Steinfeldt has been dealing with a case that seems quite complicated, partly because it is so spectacular. It revolves around a man who has also remained an unsung hero in Germany, and who demonstrated humanity in the midst of barbarism.
The file on Steinfeldt's desk makes a very substantial impression. It contains Gestapo reports, the records of US Army interrogations completed after the war, a 1947 court decision from Prague, and statements by people who were rescued and described what was done to help them. The documents seem to present a strong case for doing justice to this unsung hero, be it in Germany or Israel. Or do they?
In some of the photos, the man looks as if he had just emerged from a coffeehouse in the Weimar Republic, with his pencil moustache and cigarette holder, and his misty-eyed and melancholy gaze. There is a certain elegance about him. He played the piano, was popular with women and wasn't necessarily the most loyal person on the planet. He was a snob and a lady's man, an engineer with a bourgeois manner. And yet he was also a good person, someone with moral convictions, as George Pilzer, the son of one of the rescued, says admiringly.
It is difficult to say how many people he saved, Jews and non-Jews. He probably didn't know himself, because he didn't know all the people he helped. He retrieved some from concentration camps and helped others escape abroad. He set up bank accounts for them in Switzerland so that they could survive while in exile. He gave money to members of the resistance, and he looked the other way when they committed sabotage or stole weapons for their illegal struggle at the weapons factory where he held a high-ranking position.
The Opposite of His Brother
He was a good person, but he was also a colorful character.
His name was Albert Göring. He was the younger brother of leading Nazi Hermann Göring, the second-in-command after Adolf Hitler. Hermann Göring commanded the air war against England and prepared Germany's industry and economy for a war that he wanted as much as Hitler did. In 1941, he gave the order to "make all necessary preparations for a final solution of the Jewish question in Europe." Hermann Göring also played a major role in the rise of the Nazis.
Albert Göring was the opposite of his brother. He hated the Nazis, and he said early on that Hitler would mean war and ruin. He didn't join the Nazi Party, and he despised his brother for bowing to Hitler. He distanced himself from Germany, first going to Austria, where he took Austrian citizenship. After the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany, he moved to Prague, and from there to Budapest and Bucharest. Wherever he went, he helped those in desperate need, both before and during the war.
On the few occasions that the Göring brothers saw each other in the 12 years between the Nazi takeover and Germany's surrender to the Allies, it was at family gatherings. But Albert needed Hermann, and he also used him. He would have been lost without his brother. Without his support, the Gestapo -- which knew exactly what Albert Göring was doing and with whom he associated -- would have arrested and executed him.
The Göring brothers remained loyal to each other. He is my brother, Hermann would say, reminding the Gestapo thugs that family members were off-limits. The madness of the Nazi era could easily be told from the perspective of these two brothers. Their relationship offers tremendous material for a double biography and, of course, a movie. Contemporary witnesses who are still alive today include family members who knew both men: Albert's great-nieces, Hermann's only daughter and Albert's only daughter.
It's thrilling material. But a small survey of well-known historians shows that hardly any of them was even aware of the existence of Hermann Göring's dissimilar brother.
Still, there is sufficient written documentation describing who Albert Göring was. In 1962, more than 50 years ago, Ernst Neubach wrote a long article ("My Friend Göring") in Aktuell, a now-defunct weekly magazine. Neubach penned the lyrics for popular tunes ("I Lost My Heart in Heidelberg"), wrote screenplays and directed films. He was a Jew who owed a great deal to Albert Göring and fled to France in 1938. His article is part of the material in Göring's file at Yad Vashem.
Neubach describes an episode in Vienna, shortly after the Nazi invasion. When Nazi stormtroopers raided the Raber paint shop on Wehringerstrasse, they couldn't find the owner and collared his 75-year-old mother instead. They hung a sign around her neck that read: "I am a dirty Jew," and forced her to sit in the shop's window. When Göring happened upon the scene, he pushed his way through the jeering onlookers, removed the sign from the humiliated woman and led her away from the crowd. When a few lower-ranking members of the SS blocked his way, he showed them his identification and they let him go.
"At the time, many people owed their lives and their freedom to the brother of the all-powerful Hermann Göring," Neubach writes. Albert Göring rescued his doctor, Max Wolf, from being sent to the Dachau concentration camp. He obtained exit permits for other Jews, and he transferred the confiscated assets of Jews to Zurich. He personally took his friend Oskar Pilzer, a film producer and former president of Austria's largest film production company, to the border at the last possible moment.
Later, in Prague, he used letterhead with the name Göring printed on it to write a letter to the camp commandant in Dachau, in which he demanded the release of Josef Charvát, a doctor and resistance fighter. The commandant had two men named Charvát in the camp and, to be on the safe side, released them both. As a result, a communist leader named Charvát was also freed.
Protected by His Brother
The Charvát episode illustrates the occasionally comedic quality of the otherwise deadly serious story of the rescue of "Jewish individuals known and unknown to him," as Neubach writes. But the Nazi reports from his time in Prague also show that there were times when Albert Göring risked his own life.
In 1939, Göring went to the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, where he was made export director at the Škoda Works. Škoda, one of the largest arms manufacturers in Europe at the time, was incorporated into Reichswerke Hermann Göring, a Nazi industrial conglomerate. But it wasn't his brother's influence that got Albert his high-ranking position. He had developed a reputation, which led the plant's management to offer him the job.
The Gestapo had Göring under surveillance and collected incriminating material against him. According to a lengthy report on his activities dated Oct. 23, 1944, he had drawn attention to himself "because of his frequent association with Jewish circles," and because he was acting on behalf of individual Jews and may even have been married to a Jew. In fact, Albert Göring had married a Czech woman, part of the Slavic ethnic group that the Nazis viewed as inferior.
The report also states that Göring took certain liberties, including his refusal to tolerate Nazi conventions. "Worth noting in this context," the document reads, "is a report that a Czech employee advised a German vice-director not to use the 'Heil Hitler' greeting upon entering Göring's office because he would otherwise have been thrown out immediately."
A short note from the Nazi governor in Prague to headquarters in Berlin, dated Aug. 24, 1944, reveals what the Nazis would like to have done with him if their hands hadn't been tied: "Mr. Albert Göring, who in my opinion is a defeatist of the worst sort, arrived in Prague from Budapest yesterday, bringing news of atrocities. Because he entertains relationships with unreliable Czech industrialists, I consider his unrestricted mobility to be dangerous and therefore request permission to transfer him to the Reich Security Head Office in Berlin for interrogation and clarification of serious suspicions."
But this never went beyond a fervent wish. The big brother held his protective hand over the little brother, who did the opposite of what Hermann felt was right. Nevertheless, despite their differences, a brother was a brother. Albert relied on this notion, and he knew that he could, even though the two men presumably never spoke about it.
Members of the extended Göring family say that the two never discussed their differences. Political debates did not take place at family gatherings. The brothers were probably protecting each other from the truth, and each of them probably didn't want to know exactly what the other one was doing.
Albert Göring was arrested several times, but was always quickly released after officials had put in a call to Berlin. Given what we know today, perhaps he was never truly in mortal danger, no matter how much the Nazis would have liked to put him through the wringer.
Rumors of Jewish Roots
But why did Albert Göring help those in need in the first place? There are no written documents describing his motivation for helping people in trouble. It is clear that the Hitler cult of personality was repugnant to him. His brother was the antipode, and his two sisters were married to ardent Nazis. Albert was the exception in the family, an outsider who was respected and derided at the same time. There is, however, a story in his biography that lends a grotesque twist to this case of the unsung hero.
According to a relative who prefers to remain anonymous, it was an open secret in the family that Albert was in fact only a half-brother. He was allegedly the product of an affair between his mother, Franziska, or Fanny, and the Göring family's wealthy physician. In fact, photos show a resemblance between Albert and the doctor, Hermann von Epenstein. Epenstein was rich and sophisticated, and he owned two castles, one in the Franconia region of Bavaria and one in the Austrian state of Salzburg. He was also of Jewish origin.
If Epenstein was the father, Albert Göring, according to Nazi Rassenlehre (racial theory), was a "Jewish mongrel."
Some might interpret this aspect of the family history as a motive for Albert Göring to rescue victims of the Nazis instead of becoming a Nazi himself or leading a life of luxury in his brother's shadow. His life in Third Reich was certainly not without danger because it was possible to exploit the knowledge of his origins. But the Gestapo apparently did not discover the family secret, or else it would have caused more trouble for both Albert and Hermann Göring.
Trials, Obscurity and Death
When the war ended, a period of suffering began for Albert Göring.
On May 9, 1945, he surrendered to the Americans in Salzburg. He assumed that he would be shown respect because of his acts of kindness during the Nazi era. He told his interrogators who he was and what he had done -- but no one believed him.
He was a Göring, the brother of the Reichsmarschall, an evil luminary within the Hitler elite, which meant that he could only be a Nazi of the worst kind. He was the type of prisoner who was desperately searching for excuses, as well as being extremely nervous, Richard Sonnenfeldt, the American chief interpreter at the Nuremberg trials, said in a TV interview.
Albert Göring must have been stunned by the American soldiers' skepticism. As proof of his actions, he compiled a list of 34 names. He neatly documented the names, previous places of residence, professions, citizenships and current places of residence of "people whose lives or existence I put myself at risk (three Gestapo arrest warrants!) to save" and specified their "race" and the "type of help" he had provided. The list includes prominent individuals such as Kurt Schuschnigg, the last Austrian chancellor before the 1938 annexation, and the wife of opera composer Franz Lehár, who was Jewish and No. 15 on the list of people Göring had saved.
He had been imprisoned for a year when a new interrogation specialist named Victor Parker reported for duty. As he was reading the list of 34 individuals, he paused when he saw the name Lehár. By a stroke of luck, the composer's wife was Parker's aunt. The Americans finally believed the story their prisoner had told them and released him from custody. But he wasn't freed altogether. Instead, they extradited him to Prague, just in case there was any evidence against him there.
Göring ended up in Pankrác Prison, together with German war criminals, looters and murderers. He was put on trial in a Czechoslovakian people's court.
As a German named Göring, being put on trial in Prague in 1947 was almost tantamount to a death sentence. But many workers from the Škoda plant and resistance fighters appeared in court to praise the defendant. In a letter to then-President Edvard Beneš, Ernst Neubach wrote that "hundreds of men and women" had Albert Göring to thank for "being rescued from the Gestapo, concentration camps and executioners." The court acquitted him in March 1947.
When Neubach tried to bring his friend Albert Göring to the world's attention in 1962, Germans were still trying to hush up the past. No one, neither the public nor historians, was interested in a Göring who differed from the rest of his family. Twenty years later, biographies of Hermann Göring were gradually being published, heavy tomes by authors such as Richard Overy and David Irving, who mentioned the younger brother as an aside, with no appraisal of his merits as a rescuer of those persecuted by the Nazis.
Trying to Right Wrongs
Years passed. In 1998, Britain's Channel 4 aired a striking TV documentary called "The Real Albert Göring." In it, the children of people who had been rescued talked about Göring, his character and what he had done. The film also included original footage from the Nazi era. An attractive, elegant older woman chatted about the differences between her Uncle Albert, who she called Bertl, and her father Hermann. The woman was Edda Göring, Hermann's only daughter, who lives in Munich today.
The documentary was essentially a screen adaptation of Neubach's article. But it too came to nothing. Then, a few years later, a young Australian named William Hastings Burke happened upon the documentary and was fascinated. He went to Germany to study the archives, and he retraced Albert Göring's steps through Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania. He also found Albert's only daughter, Elizabeth, and other relatives.
Burke embarked on a one-man crusade to make up for what had been ignored for decades. His efforts led to the book "Thirty-Four," published in Germany last year under the title "Hermann's Brother. Who Was Albert Göring?" The book was mentioned in the German publications Der Tagesspiegel, Die Welt and Focus, as well as by SPIEGEL ONLINE.
Burke had discovered how Albert Göring's life progressed after the acquittal in Prague. He was 52. His fortune was gone, and he was unable to find work as an engineer. The Göring name became a curse because no one was about to hire a Göring. He slowly fell into despair and cheated on his wife, who divorced him and emigrated to Peru with their daughter.
Göring could have changed his name, as so many Nazis did. But the relative who prefers to remain anonymous suspects that he chose to keep his name out of solidarity with the family. Heinrich Göring had treated him as a son, and Albert, a moralist, would have considered renouncing his name a betrayal, says the relative.
Göring spent his last few years living in relative poverty in an apartment building with his former housekeeper, whom he married shortly before his death. He died in Munich on Dec. 20, 1966. His grave in Munich's Waldfriedhof cemetery no longer exists. It was leveled in 2008.
Sorting Fact from Fiction
It was Burke who sent the documents to Yad Vashem two years ago. He believes that his hero deserves to become the 511th "righteous" German.
In the Café Paradiso, Irene Steinfeldt wrinkles her brow and says that Albert Göring was undoubtedly a fascinating person, a provocateur and a privileged lone wolf. She also finds it peculiar that so few people in Germany have even heard of him. Perhaps the Germans find it more difficult to reconcile themselves with a Göring than the Israelis, she says. However, she adds, it is important, that he is finally appreciated in Germany as an important historical figure.
The file on her desk has become very thick in recent months. She has spoken by phone with the son of someone who was rescued in Switzerland. She doubts whether all the information Neubach, Channel 4 and Burke have compiled is accurate. She believes that truth is sometimes transformed into legend.
Under the rules, only those who put their own lives at risk to save the lives of others can be counted among the righteous. And they cannot be Jewish. Officially, Albert Göring was not a Jew, but is that the truth or a legend? And is it even conceivable that the State of Israel would award its highest honor to someone named Göring?
Eventually, says Steinfeldt, she will present the Göring file to the commission.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
March 7, 2013
Pope Wanted. Must Possess Magnetic Charm. And Grit.
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN and DANIEL J. WAKIN
ROME — No candidate for pope can have it all. But the cardinals who will elect the next pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church seem to be looking for someone who combines the charisma of Pope John Paul II with the grit of what one Vatican analyst called, only slightly tongue in cheek, “Pope Rambo I.”
While it is too early to talk of front-runners, hints to the characteristics sought in a future pontiff can be discerned from the utterances of the cardinals who have spent the past week in meetings at the Vatican. Before Wednesday, when they stopped giving interviews, the cardinals frequently cited attributes the church now needs: a compelling communicator who wins souls through both his words and his holy bearing, and a fearless sheriff who can tackle the disarray and scandal in the Vatican.
Their focus on communication and good governance is in many ways an acknowledgment of the deficiencies of Pope Benedict XVI, who flew off in a helicopter to an unexpected retirement last week after a rocky eight-year tenure. But it is also a sign of the nostalgia for Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II, a magnetic presence who commanded the spotlight on trips around the world and even as he lay dying.
On Benedict’s watch, the church lost sway in Europe, the United States and even Latin America. The central bureaucracy in Rome, the Curia, fell more deeply into dysfunction and even corruption. Cardinals from several countries commented this week that they were seriously troubled by recent reports in the Italian news media about a secret dossier that was given to the departing Benedict and was said to contain explosive evidence of sexual and financial blackmail. The confidential dossier is supposed to be shown to the next pope.
Few candidates come with the whole package of talents, and the Italian news media have even floated the notion that the cardinals are considering “tickets” that would pair a pastoral pope with a tough, savvy secretary of state who could act as an administrator and, if need be, enforcer.
The next pontiff may not need to execute a crackdown on Vatican infighting and misdeeds, but he must at least have the executive smarts to appoint a deputy fearless enough to confront the entrenched Vatican bureaucracy.
“The first thing he has to do is put greater order in the central administration of the Curia,” said Cardinal Edward Egan, the retired archbishop of New York. “He has to be willing to take criticism.”
And at the same time, “He has to be a man who understands the faith and can announce it in an attractive and uncomplicated way,” said Cardinal Egan, who voted in the conclave that elected Benedict, but is now just beyond the voting age limit of 80.
As of Thursday, all of the 115 cardinals eligible to vote and expected to come had arrived in Rome. But exactly when they will be locked into the Sistine Chapel to vote for the next pope remained uncertain. The cardinals have been meeting behind closed doors in the Vatican’s Paul VI hall every day this week, listening to one another speak about the challenges facing the church.
For those whose names have been circulated as “papabile,” or candidates for pope, the speeches serve in part as auditions.
The lag in scheduling the conclave indicated that the cardinals were still at the stage of assessing one another’s personalities, records and ideas, said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, in a news media briefing on Thursday.
Any serious papal candidate has to be prayerful, theologically sound and fluent in Italian, the language of the Vatican and of Rome, which is, after all, the pope’s own diocese.
Several cardinals have also said that the next pope must have had experience as bishop of a diocese. That description would exclude some cardinals who have served most of their years in the Curia and those with little pastoral experience, like Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the erudite Italian whom Benedict gave the honor of preaching at the Vatican’s recent Lenten retreat.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, said in an interview, “Being a shepherd of a local church, I think, would be a very important factor if you’re going to be engaged in this idea of renewing the church spiritually.”
Several cardinals have also emphasized that a pope must be able to reach out to other faiths, improve relations with bishops around the world and forcefully present Catholic teaching.
Many of those mentioned as papabile are said to have proven talents as administrators, either in their archdioceses or in the Roman Curia, or both. These include Cardinals Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan; Odilo Pedro Scherer, archbishop of São Paulo, Brazil; Peter Erdo, archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest and primate of Hungary; Leonardo Sandri, an Argentine with long experience in the Roman Curia; and Marc Ouellet, a Canadian who heads the Vatican’s powerful Congregation for Bishops.
But several of those prelates are known to be short on charisma or presence. Cardinals Erdo and Ouellet are said by associates and former students to be more comfortable reading from a prepared text than speaking spontaneously in front of crowds or giving interviews.
Other cardinals, meanwhile, have had their reputations climb with a proven ability to communicate with mass audiences, notably Cardinal Luis Antonio G. Tagle of the Philippines. But his age, just 55, works against him. He is the second-youngest cardinal, after Baselios Thottunkal of India.
Age is an important criterion, especially after the resignation of Benedict, who is 85. Many cardinals agree that the future pope would ideally be in his 60s, and Cardinal Wilfrid F. Napier of South Africa narrowed the age to the early 60s. He suggested in an interview that it was time for a longer papacy, to carry forward efforts to strengthen the church.
“You need more time to build on those foundations,” Cardinal Napier said. “I think we need a longer papacy to generate the energy and keep the momentum going.” He added, “From informal conversations, some of the other cardinals would be looking in that direction as well.”
In the past, it would have been unthinkable to have a serious papal contender from the United States, an economic and political superpower, but Vatican watchers say that for the first time ever, there is enthusiasm for two Americans who have both charisma and administrative strengths: Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, a garrulous presence, and Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley of Boston, a Franciscan friar.
While it remains unlikely that either will become pope, largely because the United States is still perceived as a global superpower whose interests do not always dovetail so smoothly with those of the Catholic Church, this conclave is the first to break the taboo.
“For the first time Americans are even being considered — that’s the news,” said Marco Politi, a veteran Vatican watcher in Italy.
Rachel Donadio, Michael Paulson and Jim Yardley contributed reporting.
Papal conclave: fault lines emerge as cardinals gather to vote
A colourful cast of 115 cardinals are gathering to select a new pope from one of their number to lead 1.2bn Catholics
guardian.co.uk, Friday 8 March 2013 11.50 GMT
There are diplomats, academics, intellectuals and theologians. There are hardliners, conservatives, ultra-conservatives, moderates, mavericks and many who simply defy categorisation. When it comes to the conclave of 115 cardinals who will choose the next pope in the coming days, the phrase broad church is entirely appropriate.
Take Cardinal Manuel Monteiro de Castro of Portugal and Cardinal Juan Sandoval Iñiguez of Mexico. In 2004, while papal envoy to Spain, Monteiro de Castro appeared to hint that the church should acknowledge homosexual partnerships as well as heterosexual ones. Although most countries defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman, he said: "There are other forms of cohabitation and it is good that they be recognised."
Sandoval has taken the other side. Three years ago he described same-sex unions as an "aberration" and was equally blunt on the subject of gay people adopting children, asking: "Would you want to be adopted by a pair of faggots or lesbians?" His other betes noires include at least one other Christian denomination, "you've got to be shameless to be a Protestant", and women who he believes fail to dress and behave correctly: "Women shouldn't go around being so provocative – that's why so many get raped."
These are not the only fault lines. While cardinals such as Ennio Antonelli of Italy and Jean-Louis Tauran of France bitterly opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq, others are more hawkish on matters of security. After the capture of the head of the Shining Path terrorist group in 1992 – which signalled the end of the bloody insurgency that claimed 70,000 lives in his native Peru – Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani called for the earthly ultimate punishment. "We cannot allow the fears, worries and cowardice of a few people in the country to stop us approving the death penalty," said Cipriani, a member of Opus Dei and champion basketball player in his youth.
Some cardinals, however, share remarkably similar views. Many African cardinals, for example, are sceptical about using condoms to halt the spread of HIV/Aids. Wilfrid Napier of South Africa expressed doubts about the efficacy of condoms; John Njue of Kenya has blamed them for the spread of disease, while Cardinal Anthony Okogie of Nigeria has gone so far as to say: "The condom is widely known not to be a safe protector against HIV/Aids."
Cardinal Peter Turkson, the archbishop emeritus of Cape Coast in Ghana and the man judged Africa's best hope for pope, has stressed the importance of common values, recently telling a TV interviewer that that Africa had largely escaped the sexual abuse scandals that wrought so much damage on the western church thanks to its strong taboos against homosexuality.
"African traditional systems kind of protect or have protected its population against this tendency," he told CNN. "Because in several communities, in several cultures in Africa, homosexuality, or for that matter, any affair between two sexes of the same kind are not countenanced in our society … It's helped to keep this out."
Taboo or no taboo, other cardinals have found themselves bound together rather more ineluctably. Although Cardinal Keith O'Brien opted to absent himself from the conclave after he resigned as archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh over allegations that he had behaved "inappropriately" towards four priests, some scandal-hit cardinals have refused to recuse themselves.
Cardinal Sean Brady, archbishop of Armagh, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, Cardinal Roger Mahony, archbishop emeritus of Los Angeles, and Cardinal Justin Rigali, former archbishop of Philadelphia, have all faced – or are facing – questions about what they knew about the abuse of children by priests. But all have decided to go to Rome for the conclave.
Then there are those who find fame for other reasons: Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Jesuit intellectu al and archbishop of Buenos Aires who travels around town by bus and told his compatriots not to waste their money on plane tickets to Rome to see him become a cardinal but to give it instead to the poor; Cardinal Dominik Duka of the Czech Republic, who practised and deepened his faith despite enduring years of state repression; Cardinal Fernando Filoni, who refused to leave his diplomatic post in Iraq in the violence that followed the US invasion, saying "If the pastor flees in moments of difficulty, the sheep are also lost"; Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the charismatic, 55-year-old archbishop of Manila, whose scholarship on the second Vatican council and passionate defence of the sanctity of life have won him popularity on both sides of the political divide; and Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga of Honduras, who has proved an ardent defender of human rights and a fierce critic of capitalism and the drug trade. The archbishop of Tegucigalpa would be a perfect Latin American candidate to succeed Benedict were it not for his leftist leanings and his intemperate comparison, in 2002, of the US media's coverage of the church sexual abuse scandals with the persecution of Christians by Nero, Hitler and Stalin.
The geographical divide is instructive: 60 of the cardinals are European, 19 Latin American, 14 North American, 11 African, 10 Asian and one Australian.
The 28 Italian cardinal electors, who comprise nearly a quarter of the total number of pope-makers, do not want for colourful characters among their ranks either, be they Angelo Amato, who takes a markedly revisionist approach to the church's treatment of Galileo, Angelo Bagnasco, who has publicly denounced the "intrinsically wretched and empty" behaviour of some Italian politicians – although he did not mention Silvio Berlusconi by name – or Gianfranco Ravasi, a Dante enthusiast who believes that Darwin's theory of evolution is compatible with the church's teachings on creation.
Then there is the Vatican's finance minister, Domenico Calcagno, who is known as Rambo in certain sections of the Italian press because of his extensive collection of firearms, which includes a Smith & Wesson magnum, a Turkish pump-action Hatsan shotgun and a Remington. It is unclear whether he possesses a Beretta to go with his biretta.
Even they, however, struggle to compete with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who has a knack for attracting publicity – and not all of it positive. Despite winning fans by donning a sheepskin coat to provide live commentary for a match between Sampdoria and Juventus while archbishop of Genoa in 2004, and memorably dismissing The Da Vinci Code as "a potpourri of lies; a phantasmagorical cocktail of inventions", his more recent headlines have been less favourable. In 2010, he provoked an international outcry after suggesting that the blame for the sexual abuse crisis lay with the nature of homosexuality rather than the pressures of priestly celibacy.
"Many psychologists and psychiatrists have shown that there is no link between celibacy and paedophilia but many others have shown, I have recently been told, that there is a relationship between homosexuality and paedophilia," he said.
But neither such pronouncements nor the pressures of the Vatileaks affair – which was seen by many as a direct attempt to discredit him – appear to have done serious damage to Bertone's reputation. Benedict XVI's secretary of state, who is now 78, remains a popular candidate to succeed his former boss.
With the clamour for the new leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics to be a strong, untainted reformer growing ever louder and more urgent – and so many candidates to choose from – the cardinals face an unenviable task as they enter the conclave to decide who he will be.
The only thing you can be sure of is that all 115 of the men meeting in the Sistine Chapel will have wondered what they would say if they were to be elected and suddenly found themselves asked for the papal name they had chosen. "I think," said one conclave veteran, "that all the cardinals have a name up their sleeve."
Osama bin Laden's son-in-law detained in US operation in Jordan
Al-Qaida operative Suleiman Abu Ghaith to appear in New York court after being charged with conspiracy to kill US nationals
The Guardian, Friday 8 March 2013
Suleiman Abu Ghaith, one of the most high-profile al-Qaida militants sought by US intelligence services, was in US custody on Thursday following a secret operation involving Jordanian intelligence services, the CIA and the FBI.
The US attorney general, Eric Holder, confirmed the detention and US authorities announced that he had been charged with a conspiracy to kill US nationals. He was due to appear in court in New York on Friday.
The exact details of the operation were still vague, but it appears to have taken place in Jordan, a US ally in the region. Abu Ghaith, a 47-year-old Kuwaiti whose real name is not publicly known, is one of the last of the militants active in the late 1990s and early part of the last decade to be killed or captured by US intelligence services of their allies. Bin Laden died in a US special forces raid on a house in the northern Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad in May 2011.
Al-Qaida has since been led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, a veteran Egyptian extremist.
Initial public confirmation of the capture of Abu Ghaith, a son-in-law of al-Qaida's late leader Osama bin Laden and a former spokesman for the group, came from Peter King, a senior Republican member of the House intelligence committee and former chairman of the House committee on homeland security.
"I commend our CIA and FBI, our allies in Jordan, and President Obama for their capture of al-Qaida spokesman Suleiman Abu Ghaith. I trust he received a vigorous interrogation, and will face swift and certain justice," King said in a statement.
Holder confirmed the charges later. "No amount of distance or time will weaken our resolve to bring America's enemies to justice," he said in a statement accompanying the indictment against Abu Ghaith.
Abu Ghaith gained an international profile when he appeared in videos made by al-Qaida and widely disseminated in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. His movements over following years have been unclear though it appears likely that he fled Afghanistan to Iran along with hundreds of other militants after the fall of the Taliban regime.
Abu Ghaith entered Turkey last month from Iran, where he appears to have been held under house arrest. Scores of militants and even relatives of Bin Laden have been allowed to leave Iran by local security services over the last two years.
Detained after being identified in the luxury hotel where he was staying in Ankara following information passed to local security services by US agencies, Abu Gaith was later released when a local court found that he had committed no offence in Turkey which could justify continued incarceration, local news reported.
The US government is believed to have asked for access to interrogate Abu Ghaith, who has been stripped of his Kuwaiti citizenship, in Turkey shortly after his arrest. Extradition was also discussed. The fugitive militant is thought to have been hoping to return to Kuwait but appears to have been deported to Jordan from where he swiftly passed into US custody.
A Jordanian security official confirmed to the Associated Press that Abu Ghaith was handed over last week to US law enforcement officials under both nations' extradition treaty. The official declined to disclose other details and spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
According to Reuters, quoting unidentified US sources, the FBI took the lead role in the operation under the auspices of an inter-agency body known as the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group. The group was created by the Obama administration after the president ordered a CIA programme in which militant suspects were detained and held in a network of secret prisons, during the Bush administration, to be shut down.
The suspects were sometimes subjected to controversial and physically coercive "enhanced interrogation techniques", and also sometimes transferred without trial to third countries under a procedure known as "extraordinary rendition". Abu Ghaith has not featured among those militants mentioned as active threats by intelligence services in the UK and elsewhere for many years.
Kenya election uncertainty continues as frontrunner hovers on 50% of vote
Uhuru Kenyatta needs more than 50% to avoid runoff in presidential poll marred by balloting failures and fraud claims
Associated Press in Nairobi
guardian.co.uk, Friday 8 March 2013 08.51 GMT
Kenya's drawn-out race for president is seen as too close to call, with the leading candidate hovering around the mark needed to avoid a runoff.
As the last third of votes came in, the percentage held by Uhuru Kenyatta flipped and flopped over 50%. His opponent, Raila Odinga, needed a strong performance in the remaining ballots to force a second round runoff.
The election commission said it expected to have final results by the end of Friday, although observers said it could run into the weekend.
Eight candidates ran for president, and if any of the bottom six candidates captures a significant portion of the outstanding ballots, that could also push Kenyatta below 50%.
A Kenyatta win could have far-reaching consequences for Kenya's international relations. The son of Kenya's founding father, he faces charges at the international criminal court for his role in directing some of the postelection violence that followed the 2007 presidential vote, in which more than 1,000 people died.
The US has warned of "consequences" if Kenyatta wins, as have several European countries. Britain, which ruled Kenya up until the early 1960s, has said it would only have essential contact with a President Kenyatta.
The ICC trial is scheduled to begin in July and could take years, meaning that if Kenyatta wins he may have to rule Kenya from The Hague for the first half of his presidency. Another option is, as president, to decide not to go. Such a decision would have even more damaging effects for Kenya's standing with the west, and Kenyatta has promised he will go even if he does win.
Whether or not Kenyatta finishes with more than half of the votes, most observers expect legal challenges after myriad failures in the systems that Kenya's electoral commission established.
The first problems were evident just as the voting began early on Monday. An electronic voter ID system intended to prevent fraud failed across the country – for lack of electricity in some cases and overheating computers in others. Vote officials instead used manual voter rolls.
After the polls closed, results were to be sent electronically to Nairobi, where officials would quickly tabulate a preliminary vote count in order to maximise transparency after rigging accusations following the 2007 vote. But that system failed too. Election officials indicated that computer servers overloaded but have yet to fully explain the problem.
On Tuesday, as the early count system was still being used, election results showed more than 330,000 rejected ballots, an unusually high number. But after the count resumed with the arrival in Nairobi of manual tallies, the number of rejected ballots had dropped to almost nothing, and the election commission on Thursday gave the head-scratching explanation that the computer was mistakenly multiplying the number of rejected ballots by a factor of eight.
Odinga's camp on Thursday said some votes had been doctored and called for a halt to the tallying process. It said the tallying process "lacked integrity". A day earlier, Kenyatta's camp accused the British high commissioner of meddling in the election and asked why there were an unusually high number of British troops in the country.
March 8, 2013
Captors of U.N. Peacekeepers Press Demands
By ALAN COWELL and HANIA MOURTADA
A group of United Nations peacekeepers from the Philippines who were seized in the disputed Golan Heights region between Syria and Israel two days ago, remained in captivity early on Friday as their captors pressed demands for a redeployment of government forces nearby, the Filipino authorities said.
The rebels had offered assurances on Thursday of the 21 peacekeepers’ well-being and appeared to back away from threats to hold them as hostages. But Raul Hernandez, the spokesman for the Philippines Foreign Ministry, said on Friday that the insurgents were still pressing for Syrian government forces to move away from the area around Al Jamlah, the village where the international troops were seized on Wednesday.
“We are intensifying our negotiations with the rebel group,” Mr. Hernandez said.
Al Jamlah lies close to the Golan Heights, controlled by Israel, where a United Nations force has patrolled since a cease-fire halted the 1973 October War.
Moaz al-Khatib, the leader of the rebel Syrian Opposition Council, said on Friday that when the peacekeepers were seized, their “convoy was at risk, which necessitated transferring them to a safe place.” He said the area where they were detained had been under constant bombardment by Syrian artillery for a week. The rebels said Thursday that they wanted Syrian troops to move with their heavy weaponry to open up an exit route for their captives. But the demand also seemed driven by tactical considerations in the nearly two-year-old Syrian conflict. Either way, the Syrian government seemed unlikely to accept such conditions.
Mr. Khatib told CNN on Friday that the rebels were prepared to release the peacekeepers if they could be handed over to the Red Cross. But in the confusion, as previous talks seemed to have reached an impasse, rebel fighters said no negotiations were under way.
Israel, which has watched anxiously for spillover as the Syrian civil war has intensified, signaled Thursday that it had no intention of becoming embroiled in the situation. Amos Gilad, a senior official in the Defense Ministry, told Israel Radio that “we can rely on the U.N. to persuade” the insurgent fighters to release the peacekeepers and that “neither the rebels nor anyone else has an interest in clashing with the international community, which it needs for support.”
The authorities in Manila said the troops had not been harmed and President Benigno S. Aquino III said he believed the peacekeepers would be viewed by both sides in the Syrian conflict as a “benign presence, so we don’t expect any further untoward incident to happen.”
The detention of the peacekeepers was the first time any regional United Nations forces had been drawn into the Syrian war.
A group calling itself Martyrs of Yarmouk claimed responsibility for capturing the unit and, in a video posted on the Internet, threatened that if Syrian forces did not withdraw from the surrounding area within 24 hours, the peacekeepers would be dealt with “like war prisoners.”
But on Thursday, a statement on what appeared to be the group’s Facebook page asserted that the rebels had acted to protect the Filipino unit from a Syrian government assault. “With God’s help, we were able to keep a group of U.N. members, who work in the border village of Al Jamlah, safe from the barbaric shelling of Assad’s criminal gang,” it said, referring to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.
The peacekeepers were “under our protection until we can get them to safe areas,” the post continued.
“We dissociate ourselves from all statements issued prior to this one regarding the detention of U.N. personnel,” it said. “They are now safe and honored and hosted as guests by the brigade’s leadership until we can deliver them safely to their headquarters.”
A series of videos was also posted on the Internet showing different groups of the peacekeepers offering remarkably similar accounts. In each, an officer identifies himself and his unit, explains that they came under fire from government forces and were aided by civilians, who were giving them food and water and keeping them safe.
The scale of the destruction wrought by the almost two-year-old conflict emerged starkly on Thursday when Doctors Without Borders, a humanitarian aid organization, said in a report that Syria’s once-efficient health care network had broken down, with patients treated in caves and basements as large numbers of hospitals closed and medical facilities became tools “in the military strategies of the parties to the conflict.”
“Medical aid is being targeted, hospitals destroyed and medical personnel captured,” said Marie-Pierre Allié, the president of Doctors without Borders.
The report, issued in New York, added to a catalog of woes this week as the number of refugees fleeing Syria exceeded a million and the school system was reported to have collapsed.
Alan Cowell reported from London, and Hania Mourtada from Beirut, Lebanon. Isabel Kershner contributed reporting from Jerusalem, and Floyd Whaley from Manila.
March 7, 2013
Syria Opposition Leaders Delay Trip to Washington
By MICHAEL R. GORDON and MARK LANDLER
WASHINGTON — Leaders of the Syrian opposition have put off a visit to Washington for a series of high-profile meetings, including an expected stop at the White House, administration officials said Thursday, underscoring the challenge the United States faces in cultivating a still-evolving political movement.
The Obama administration had invited Moaz al-Khatib, the leader of the Syrian Opposition Council, and Gen. Salim Idriss, the leader of the opposition’s military wing, to make the trip this week, but Mr. Khatib told Secretary of State John Kerry last week at a conference in Rome on the Syria crisis that this was not a good time to visit.
No date has been set, but some American officials are hoping the visit might be possible in April.
Obama administration officials said the decision appeared to reflect Mr. Khatib’s intention to work on building up his moderate coalition instead of taking long foreign trips. The officials asked not to be identified because they were discussing diplomatic deliberations.
But some observers say that it may also reflect some sensitivity on the part of the Syrians about being seen to line up too closely with the Americans, who have offered limited support for their military effort to oust the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.
Mr. Khatib’s decision to attend the Rome meeting on Feb. 28 was controversial among some members of the opposition coalition — so much so that he initially declined to participate, only to be encouraged to go in phone calls by Mr. Kerry and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
The White House declined to comment on the opposition’s deferral of the Washington trip.
A senior administration official played down the matter, attributing it to a scheduling conflict.
“The invitation is open, and we’re looking forward to a visit in the future,” said the official, who added that the United States was working closely with the opposition.
The postponement of the visit comes against the background of a White House decision to provide $60 million in new assistance to the Syrian opposition’s political wing, but to limit military support to medical supplies and food rations.
During his recent nine-nation trip, Mr. Kerry signaled that the United States was backing efforts by Middle Eastern states to send arms. Even on this point, however, Mr. Kerry indicated that the American support for arms was limited.
In a radio interview on March 5 with Bloomberg News, Mr. Kerry acknowledged the Syrian opposition wanted more military support than it was receiving from allies.
But Mr. Kerry said the White House strategy called for increasing support to the rebels so that the Assad government would take notice and agree to negotiations on a peaceful transfer of power to a post-Assad era. At the same time, the White House does not want to provide so much assistance that it would lead to a major escalation of the fighting and decisively influence the outcome of the military struggle.
“I understand the impatience of the Syrian opposition,” Mr. Kerry said, according to a transcript of the Bloomberg interview, which was released by the State Department on Thursday. “I know it’s frustrating because they think that, plunk, and you just have this weapon or that weapon and it’s over.
“But the fact is that the president believes that this has to be done in a way that doesn’t create more killing before it gives an opportunity to be able to try to make a choice for a peaceful resolution,” he added. “So by ratcheting it up in Rome, but doing so in a measured and thoughtful way, the president is saying to President Assad: ‘Look, we’re ratcheting up and we’re committed, but you have an opportunity here to be able to make a choice to have a peaceful outcome.’ ”
With Mr. Obama scheduled to visit Israel in less than three weeks, his first visit as president, the White House has begun calibrating expectations among American Jewish groups.
Meeting with 20 leaders of major Jewish organizations on Thursday, Mr. Obama told the group that he did not plan to announce any new Middle East peace initiative during the visit, in part because Israel was still in its own political transition, according to a person in the room.
Mr. Obama, this person said, told the group his goal was mainly to embrace the Israeli people and reassure them that the United States staunchly supported Israel’s security needs.
He did not preclude the administration’s embarking on a new policy initiative in the next “six to nine months,” the person said.
Though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel is still negotiating to form a new governing coalition, he said on Monday that he would have a government in place by the time Mr. Obama arrived.
American officials dismissed suggestions that Mr. Obama might be forced to put off the trip.
Some of the Jewish leaders pressed Mr. Obama on Thursday to take stronger steps against Iran over its nuclear program, the person said.
But the president said that the major powers needed to give Iran a bridge to a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear standoff.
My rapists were rewarded, says Somali woman cleared of making false claims
Rape victims will stay silent, warns Lul Ali Osman Barake in first major interview since acquittal, as her attackers remain at large
David Smith in Mogadishu
The Guardian, Thursday 7 March 2013 12.47 GMT
Lul Ali Osman Barake says she has been raped twice: first by a gang of men in military fatigues, then by the judicial system in what is meant to be liberated Somalia.
There was astonishment and revulsion around the world when, having told the police and journalists about the rape, the 27-year-old was arrested and sentenced to a year in jail. The verdict was quashed on appeal earlier this week. But Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim, a journalist whose "crime" was to interview Barake, remains in prison. Relatives are increasingly worried that his fragile health will not survive a Mogadishu jail that is so overcrowded he has to sleep standing up.
The case has shone an unflattering light on the Horn of Africa country and the fledgling institutions put in place with western support after two decades of civil war.
"The victim was arrested instead of the rapists, so the rapists have been rewarded," Barake told the Guardian in her first major interview since her acquittal. "I was a victim and I was given a one-year jail term. No female victim in Somalia will feel able to talk about this. Rape victims will stay silent in their home and not tell anyone."
Wearing a black jilbab and cradling her 15-month-old son, Shaafi, she agreed to share her experience through a local interpreter in Mogadishu and asked that her real name be used in the hope that it will aid her fight for justice. She has been supported by her husband and uncle; there is no independent corroboration of their allegations.
It was on 14 August, she said, that she woke up feeling unwell at her home constructed from sticks, plastic and metal sheets in one of the camps for internally displaced persons (IDP) that still scar the Somali capital. She went to a food distribution point and was approached by five men in uniform.
"They stopped me, slapped me and blindfolded me," Barake said.
"One took my hand and I had to follow them inside an empty school. I said I'm an IDP, I'm getting food to eat, what do you want with me?
"They said nothing. They were angry and they took me.
"They raped me, one after another, with four standing guard. When all five had finished, I said please allow me to leave, I'm breastfeeding a baby and need to get home. They allowed me to go. After I left the area I fell three or four times. Whenever I walked for 10 metres, I had to sit and rest."
When Barake got back to the IDP camp, a local leader took her to a police station, where she was given a letter and sent to a hospital to verify her allegations. She waited from around 6am until 2pm for a doctor to appear. Eventually Barake was subjected to a humiliating "finger test" and handed $20 in what she thinks may have been an attempt to buy her silence.
Months passed with no sign of progress in the case. A neighbour introduced Barake to Ibrahim, a freelance journalist investigating sexual violence, and on 6 January he interviewed her outside her home.
Four days later, two police cars arrived and Barake was taken into custody. Officers quizzed her about a separate interview that she had given to al-Jazeera, which published her comments under a pseudonym.
"They said, 'Who is the woman who was raped?' I said, 'I am.'"
Barake was taken to police headquarters where, she said, the most powerful officers in the country demanded to know why she had changed her name for the media. They extracted Ibrahim's number from her phone by force. Barake was released at around midnight and had to report to a station every morning for the next 17 days.
"The interrogations were very horrible and sometimes threatening," she said. "The last one was with the police chief. He had a pistol in his hand and he said, 'You are a criminal, you tell lies about the government and police. I want to ask the government to forgive you. To do that you must say the right thing and withdraw these allegations. If you don't, you will be arrested and put in jail.'
"The next time they gave me a statement withdrawing the allegations, even though I am illiterate, and told me to sign it with my thumb. I did it out of fear. The police were standing there with pistols; sometimes I thought they would kill me."
During this last incident her husband, Muhyidin Sheikh Mohamed Jimale, 58, was arguing with police officers in a separate room. "They ordered me to get out of the office and I saw my wife crying outside," the market porter said. "She said they brought her a letter and forced her to sign it. An officer said, 'This case insults the police in Somalia and if you don't throw it out, you'll be in trouble.' I replied, 'I want to get justice, I will not keep silent, I will continue to protect my wife.'"
His punishment for this defiance, Jimale claimed, was to be jailed for 26 days – including nine at Mogadishu central prison, where he was among 48 people crammed into a 4 sq metre cell.
When Barake's case came before a judge last month, she thought the nightmare would be over. "I was not afraid of the court because I thought it was better for me and justice will have its way. But that did not happen."
As police opted not to produce her "signed" statement, Barake was convicted of making false accusations and defaming a government body and sentenced to a year in prison.
This was temporarily modified to house arrest so she could continue breastfeeding her baby. Ibrahim also received a one-year sentence.
Last Sunday, after an international outcry, an appeals court judge overturned Barake's conviction due to insufficient evidence. Her worst fear, separation from her children, was lifted. But her alleged attackers remain at large, leaving her with a burning sense of injustice. "If I am not angry, who will assist me to catch them? No one can identify their faces now. No one will arrest them.
"I am angry with the attorney general and the police. I was a victim and they ordered my arrest. They said I told lies and denied that I had children. Even if I'm dying, I will not forgive them. I'm an IDP, I can't read or write and they were making use of my ignorance. They were trying to protect the reputation of the government and police.
"Journalists in Somalia will see it as a message. They will run from any victim because they know what happened to me."
Her husband shares her grievance. "It is the worst injustice I have ever seen in the world," he said. "I am a Somali citizen, I am innocent, my wife is a victim.
"When I complained to the police and law enforcement of Somalia, they arrested me and defamed me. They said, 'You are liars.' They claimed we took $400 for creating a false report. They did everything bad to us they could."
Both condemn the treatment of Ibrahim, whose supposed offence appears to have shifted over time, from fabricating a defamatory story to entering a home without permission to misleading an interviewee for an article that was never published. The appeals court halved his sentence to six months, dismaying Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Somali prime minister, all of whom expected him to be freed.
Shocked relatives and radio station colleagues speak of a gentle, studious man whose parents died when he was a child and who grew up in an orphanage. For the past five years he has lived with his uncle but this year he was planning to marry and study in Uganda towards a doctorate.
"He likes reading and writing, to follow the news and be connected to the world," said his uncle, Mohamed Ali Abdullah, a lecturer at Mogadishu University. "He's a good listener; he likes to hear your voice. At the start of his career we tried to persuade him not to be a journalist because of the risk. But he rejected the advice."
Abdullah, 43, fears for his nephew's future behind bars. "I visited him in prison yesterday and he was so depressed. The cell is very narrow and more than 40 people are inside. He was complaining about a stomach ulcer and a skin allergy because of poor sanitation. He can't stand six months of that; it's possible he will die there."
He is mystified by Ibrahim's conviction. "Abdiaziz is a journalist and was doing his job interviewing the lady. I'm afraid in the future journalists will not dare to interview victims because of the consequences of this case.
"This will destroy the future of news. This is not what we expect from the new government of Somalia."
The National Union of Somali Journalists has announced it will write to the president in protest and launch a campaign for freedom of expression, which in theory is protected under the Somali constitution. Mohamed Ibrahim, its secretary general, said: "The government is trying to criminalise the media profession. That is the common worry of all journalists.
"If he was imprisoned for a story that wasn't published, what is going to happen the next time if you don't publish an interview? Will the person complain? They are still doing wrong after wrong. Every step they are taking is a threat to freedom of the press."
The union believes Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim is the victim of a spiteful judiciary that feels threatened by imminent reforms. The defeat of Islamist militant group al-Shabaab and the election of a president and parliament last year were intended to usher in a new era in Somalia.
A new human rights taskforce is studying Ibrahim's case.
Mahamoud Abdulle, permanent secretary in the prime minister's office, said the government is committed to free speech. "The government has made its position clear: we are not happy that a journalist is in jail," he said. "But it's not our decision and we can't do a lot about it. We have an independent judiciary that is in its infancy and we cannot interfere with that."
Outside observers should appreciate the context of how far the country has come in a short time, he added. "A year ago nobody was talking about human rights violations in Somalia. People were talking about how many suicide bombers were there and the fighting on the streets of Mogadishu. There is real progress."
A senior police officer declined to comment while attempts to contact a police spokesman were unsuccessful. Abdulle said: "It's important to be careful about making allegations against the police. They have done a very good job in large areas of society. Of course there might be a few bad apples in the barrel."
*********Somalia: how women are rebuilding Mogadishu – video
As Somalia emerges from civil war and the influence of Islamist insurgents al-Shabaab, it is women who are rebuilding the economy according to businesswomen in Mogadishu, and students and the rector of the University of Somalia, who says: 'It is the women the economy relies on. The men are there for fighting'
Click to watch: http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/video/2013/mar/07/somalia-women-rebuilding-mogadishu-video
South American leaders fly to join Venezuelans mourning Chávez's death
Tens of thousands of supporters march in Caracas with guard escorting former president's coffin
Virginia Lopez in Caracas and Jonathan Watts
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 6 March 2013 19.40 GMT
South American leaders have begun flying in to Venezuela to join a nation in mourning for the death of Hugo Chávez and endorse his deputy for an upcoming election campaign to choose a successor.
As condolence messages and tributes flowed in from around the world, tens of thousands of supporters marched with the president's honour guard, which escorted Chávez's coffin – draped in the national flag – on its journey from the Carlos Arevalo military hospital to the Fuerte Tiuna military academy, where his remains will lie in state for three days.
The vice-president, Nicolás Maduro – who will try to fill the public space left by the iconic leader – called on his countrymen to respond with dignity to the loss of the much-loved, but also divisive, leader.
"In the immense pain of this historic tragedy that has affected our fatherland, we call on all the compatriots to be vigilant for peace, love, respect and tranquillity," Maduro said. "We ask our people to channel this pain into peace."
Seven days of mourning have been declared and a funeral will be held on Friday that looks set to be a fittingly epic end to one of the most influential and colourful political careers of the modern era.
With his calls for a "Bolivarian socialist revolution" and supplies of subsidised oil to allies, Chávez influenced a generation of Latin American leaders, several of whom have already flown to Caracas.
Among them is Argentina's president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who has ordered three days of mourning and for flags to be flown at half mast in her country, and Bolivia's leader, Evo Morales, who joined Maduro at the head of the precession and declared a week of mourning in his Andean nation. Uruguay's Pepe Mujica also arrived to pay his respects and Brazil's Dilma Rousseff was expected later on Wednesday.
Rafael Correa, president of Ecuador and one of Chávez's closest allies, had to deal with flooding in his country, but sent a message: "We have lost a revolutionary, but millions of us remain inspired."
In Cuba, the government of President Raúl Castro announced two days of national mourning, and expressed "deep and excruciating sorrow" at the loss of "one of their most outstanding sons".
According to the constitution, an election for a successor must be held within 30 days. During this mourning period, there has been little mention of politics, though the presence of so many regional leaders and allies of Chávez is likely to serve as a tacit endorsement of Maduro. Military commanders also pledged loyalty to Maduro, who will be interim president until the election.
Opposition parties told Reuters on Wednesday night that they have unanimously agreed that Henrique Capriles, who lost to Chávez in last year's election, will run in the upcoming presidential poll. Despite the bitter divisions between the government and opposition, the governor Miranda state governor stressed the need for stability.
"This is not the time to stress what separates us," Capriles said in a condolence message, calling for unity and respect for the grief that many felt."There are thousands, maybe millions, of Venezuelans asking themselves what will happen, who even feel fear … Don't be scared. Don't be anxious. Between us all, we're going to guarantee the peace this beloved country deserves."
Political rivalries will not be abated for long, particularly given the proximity of the election and the wave of sympathy that is likely to be generated by the funeral. Analysts suggested this would give an advantage to Maduro.
"The short campaign period benefits the ruling party. Because it is a time of mourning it will also be inappropriate for the opposition to be critical of the past years," said Javier Corrales, professor of political science at Amherst College.
With emotions high, the potential for the sombre mood to turn violent has been evident in occasional flashes of anger. A group of student protesters who had been demonstrating outside the supreme court to demand more information about the president's health were assaulted by an armed mob. Though they were unhurt, their tents were burned. A Colombian journalist was also beaten by angry crowds outside the hospital where Chávez had been treated. Shops in some areas were closed over fears of looting, while elsewhere there were long lines outside petrol stations. Riot troops have also been dispatched to protect the privately owned TV channel Globovision, which has been critical of Chávez.
Maduro – who has spoken of his dead boss in almost religious terms – stressed the need for unity.
"The key word in this revolution is loyalty. We have been loyal to Hugo Chávez in life, let's be loyal to Hugo Chávez and his legacy now that he has transcended," he said.
Chávez's final resting place is yet to be determined. Supporters want him to be buried in the National Pantheon alongside the nation's independence heroes and other illustrious citizens. But this move is likely to anger opponents who see him as an economically incompetent despot.
March 7, 2013
On Eve of His Funeral, Debating Chávez’s Legacy
By WILLIAM NEUMAN
CARACAS, Venezuela — Heads of state from around Latin America flocked to Venezuela for the funeral on Friday of Hugo Chávez, a tribute to the undiminished drawing power of the charismatic leftist leader, although perhaps not to the lasting influence of his socialist-inspired policies.
Mr. Chávez, who died Tuesday of cancer at 58, was one of the loudest voices in Latin America, pushing a vision of regional unity and defiance of Washington, sweetened with cheap oil shipments to needy neighbors. But the legacy of Mr. Chávez’s Bolivarian revolution remains more limited than he would have liked.
“It didn’t catch on,” said Alejandro Toledo, a former president of Peru. “The important thing is that Mexico has not followed his example, Chile has not followed his example, Peru has not followed his example, Colombia has not followed his example, Brazil has not followed his example. I’m talking about big countries with large, sustained economic growth.”
Venezuela had one of the lowest rates of economic growth in the region during the 14 years that Mr. Chávez held office, according to World Bank data. It has high inflation and chronic shortages of basic goods. It has one of the highest rates of violent crime, and it is riven by bitter political divisions.
“Those indicators were not lost on other parts of the hemisphere,” said Patrick Duddy, a former United States ambassador to Venezuela.
And while poverty went down significantly during Mr. Chávez’s years as president, other countries, like Brazil, Peru and Colombia, made progress in reducing poverty while following paths very different from that of Mr. Chávez.
Brazil, in particular, stands out as a regional success story, using market-oriented policies and innovative social programs to move millions from poverty into the middle class.
“The intention of Venezuela to be the shining light of the new left has not been realized,” said Leonardo Valente, a professor of international relations at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. “The other countries that have governments to the left and center-left are looking to Brazil and other countries that have a different position, a more balanced position.”
Yet Mr. Chávez had many influential and enthusiastic allies, as evidenced by the international outpouring that followed his death on Tuesday.
In an opinion article published in The New York Times on Thursday, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, whose policies are credited with the country’s strong economic growth and poverty reduction, lauded Mr. Chávez for his commitment to improving the lives of his country’s poor.
And he praised him for his pursuit of regional unity, including his role in starting groups like the Union of South American Nations, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States and the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas.
But some analysts point out that Mr. Chávez also clashed with some regional leaders and undermined efforts at integration that did not mesh with his ideological views. And his fiery clashes with the United States were seen by many as counterproductive.
“What happens with Chávez’s passing is the temperature goes down a little bit, the decibel level goes down,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue. “Chávez has been a very polarizing figure.”
President Evo Morales of Bolivia, a close friend of Mr. Chávez, was among the first leaders to arrive in Caracas this week, and he made the entire seven-hour walk on Wednesday beside Mr. Chávez’s coffin from the hospital where he died to a military academy where he lay in state.
People stood in line for hours for the chance to pass briefly by the glass-covered coffin where Mr. Chávez lay, wearing a green uniform and a red beret like the one he wore when he first appeared on the nation’s television screens after the failed 1992 coup that he led.
“He looked just like he did in life,” said Luis Cabrera Aguirre, a retired rear admiral who served as an adviser to Mr. Chávez.
Vice President Nicolás Maduro, Mr. Chávez’s designated successor, announced that the government intended to embalm the body — “just like Ho Chi Minh, like Lenin, like Mao” — so Venezuelans could see him eternally on display in the Museum of the Revolution.
Throughout the day on Thursday, government television broadcast the nonstop passage of mourners. Many saluted the president’s remains. Others crossed themselves. One elderly woman beat her breast and nearly fainted. Meanwhile, conflicting accounts of Mr. Chávez’s last hours emerged.
The Reuters news agency reported that a government official had said that Mr. Chávez fell into a coma on Monday and died the next day of respiratory failure.
But the head of Venezuela’s presidential guard, Gen. José Ornella, told The Associated Press that Mr. Chávez died of a major heart attack after mouthing the words, “I don’t want to die. Please don’t let me die.”
Many questions remained over what is next for Venezuela. Foreign Minister Elías Jaua said Wednesday that Mr. Maduro would become interim president and that the government would adhere to the Constitution, which says the nation should proceed to a new election within 30 days. Late Thursday officials said that Mr. Maduro would be sworn in president on Friday. But no election plans have yet been announced.
A decree declaring a seven-day period of national mourning had already appeared with Mr. Maduro’s signature, identifying as “president in charge.” It was also signed by two dozen cabinet ministers.
Mr. Maduro is expected to run for president against Henrique Capriles Radonski, a state governor who lost an election to Mr. Chávez in October.
Most political observers expect that Mr. Maduro will ride a wave of loyalty and grief over Mr. Chávez’s death to an election victory. Yet looming economic problems and deep political divisions will make for a difficult transition, which the region will be watching closely.
Oil is the heart of Venezuela’s economy — the country has the world’s largest estimated reserves — and, although the United States buys more Venezuelan oil than any other country, it was also at the center of Mr. Chávez’s foreign policy and its anti-American thrust.
Mr. Chávez forged close ties with fellow OPEC member Iran, in defiance of the United States-led effort to isolate that country over its nuclear program. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran was expected to attend the funeral.
And Mr. Chávez shipped oil to Syria despite international repudiation of President Bashar al-Assad’s aggressive response to an internal uprising.
Closer to home, Mr. Chávez assured himself of the loyalty of his neighbors by shipping billions of dollars of oil and fuel a year to countries in Latin America and the Caribbean under special agreements that required them to pay for only a portion of the cost up front, often with products like chicken, soybeans, wheat or clothing. The remainder of the cost was structured as a long-term loan at low interest.
The program was popular among his supporters in Venezuela, who saw it as a high-minded expression of solidarity with other underdeveloped nations. But the opposition was bitterly opposed, seeing it as a costly giveaway at a time of many unattended needs at home. Even if Mr. Chávez’s supporters remain in control, a rocky economy and stagnant oil production could ultimately make it hard to keep the oil program going at present levels.
The most extreme consequences of such a change would be felt in Cuba, a main ally, which has been propped up by large shipments of Venezuelan oil. But other countries, like Nicaragua and Bolivia, will feel the bite, and it may hamper the ability of a successor to retain the support of regional leaders.
“Venezuela’s influence in Latin America was built on the back of oil exports and oil wealth,” said Blake Clayton, an energy fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Whoever succeeds Chávez will have a hard time retaining, let alone increasing, the country’s influence with its neighbors.”
Clifford Krauss contributed reporting from Houston.
Hugo Chávez's body to go on permanent display in Caracas
Acting president, Nicolás Maduro, tells Venezuelans: 'He belongs to you' on eve of state funeral
Virginia Lopez in Caracas and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 7 March 2013 22.14 GMT
Venezuela's acting president, Nicolás Maduro, has said that Hugo Chávez's embalmed body will be permanently displayed in a glass crystal casket so "his people will always have him".
Maduro said the remains would be put on permanent display at the Museum of the Revolution, near the presidential palace where Chávez ruled for 14 years. Maduro said the president's body would lie in state first for at least another seven days. "You will see the commandante. He belongs to you," Maduro told Venezuelans.
A state funeral for Chávez attended by at least 33 heads of government is scheduled to begin on Friday morning at 11am local time.
Tens of thousands of people have already filed past his glass-topped casket at a military academy following a seven-hour procession on Tuesday when his body was transported from the hospital where he died. Chávez was dressed in an army uniform and a signature red beret like the one he wore in a 1992 speech to the nation that launched his political career after he led a failed coup.
People were given just a few seconds to glance at Chávez's body inside the relatively simple wooden coffin, which had a glass top and was draped in flowers and a Venezuelan flag.
British women slip down scale on job security and equal pay
Survey of women in work, published on International Women's Day, ranks UK 18th of 27 countries on job security and pay
guardian.co.uk, Friday 8 March 2013 12.26 GMT
Women in the UK have lower job security and greater pay inequality than those in other developed countries, research shows. They are also less likely to be in work than their counterparts in other OECD countries, according to the report by PriceWaterHouseCoopers (PwC).
The Women in Work Index ranked the UK 18th of 27 OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries in five areas of "female economic empowerment" such as pay equality, the female unemployment rate, and the proportion of women working full-time. The figures were from 2011, the latest year for which comparable data was available.
PwC compared the figures for 2011 with the same data for 2007 and 2000 and found UK women had slipped down the table – a result of rising female unemployment, above-average pay inequality, and fewer full-time employment opportunities.
The report's author, Yong Jing Teow, said: "It is worrying that the UK's progress in encouraging more women into work and closing the gender pay gap has all but ground to a halt since the recession hit. While most other OECD countries have continued to move ahead, our progress appears to have stalled."
The gender wage gap has narrowed in almost all countries since 2000, except for Italy, Portugal and France, with the Nordic countries leading PwC's latest index. Norway is in top position because of its high rate of female participation in the labour force and a low gender pay gap, followed by Sweden and Denmark. The three countries also occupied the top three positions in 2000, 2007 and 2011.
The research was published on International Women's Day and coincides with a separate report, by the Institute of Fiscal Studies, showing that more women – and men – are working beyond the traditional retirement age in the UK, swelling the UK's public finances by around £2.1bn.
Since April 2010 the age at which women can first receive a state pension has been rising from 60. It is currently 61 years and five months and is due to rise to 66 by 2020.
The IFS says this is having a strong effect in increasing employment among those women directly affected. It has also changed the behaviour of some of the husbands of the affected women – who are delaying their own retirement, possibly to retire together or perhaps to cover their wives' lost pension income.
In April 2012, there were 27,000 more women in work than there would otherwise have been as a result of the increase in the female state pension age – from age 60 to 61 – between April 2010 and April 2012.
Employment rates among their husbands increased by 4.2 percentage points, meaning 8,300 more men were in work than would otherwise have been.
Jonathan Cribb, a research economist at the IFS and co-author of the report, said: "Increasing the age at which women can first receive their state pension has led to significant numbers of women deferring their retirement, with over half aged 60 now in paid work for the first time ever. So, despite the weak performance of the UK economy over these two years, many have been able to limit the loss of state pension income through increased earnings."
Pensions minister Steve Webb welcomed the IFS's findings, stating: "It is good news. An extra year or two of paid work can bring a big boost to someone's state and private pension entitlement, and they will still go on to enjoy an average of more than two decades of retirement."
140 million girls will become child brides by 2020 at current rates
UN Commission on Status of Women debates inclusion of child marriage in agreement on eliminating violence against women, as Malawi seeks to raise its legal age of marriage from 15 to 18
Liz Ford in New York
guardian.co.uk, Friday 8 March 2013 12.46 GMT
More than 140 million girls will become child brides by 2020 if current rates of early marriage continue, according to the UN.
Of that number of girls aged under 18, 50 million will be younger than 15, says the UN Population Fund, which co-hosted a panel on child marriage at the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) on Thursday.
Although rates of child marriage vary between and within countries, most take place in rural sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia.
In south Asia, nearly half of young women are married by their 18th birthday. In sub-Saharan Africa the figure is more than one third.
Nine of the 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage are in Africa. Niger has the highest rate, at 75%, followed by Chad and Central African Republic at 68%, Guinea at 63%, Mozambique at 56%, Mali with 55%, Burkina Faso and South Sudan with 52% and Malawi at 50%. The 10th country is Bangladesh, with 66%.
Michelle Bachelet, the head of UN Women, has called child marriage a violation of girls' human rights, as it halts education, increases health risks through early pregnancy and motherhood and increases the chances of girls being the victims of sexual violence in the home.
The inclusion of child marriage in the CSW outcome agreement on eliminating violence against women and girls is now being debated.
On Thursday, the World Young Women's Christian Association presented a petition to CSW urging the conference to commit to ending child marriage by 2030, and make the issue an indicator in any future development goals.
However, there are significant barriers to achieving this in many countries, particularly poor countries, which have less resources to keep girls in school and which see early marriage as a traditional, accepted practice.
To address the issue in Malawi, the government is in the process of pushing through legislation to raise the legal age of marriage from 15 to 18, which it hopes will be in place by 2014. It is also attempting to get, and keep, more girls in primary and secondary school.
The issue is viewed as a major health challenge and is a key part of the country's wider efforts to cut maternal mortality rates. At the moment, Malawi's maternal mortality rate is 675 for every 100,000 live births a year. The Malawi health minister, Catherine Gotani Hara, said a recent national health survey revealed that most of those women who died were between the ages of 15 and 19.
"Our biggest worry is that where women are getting married early, it is causing a lot of maternal deaths," she told the Guardian. "We have one of the highest rates in the world. President Banda says this is something we don't want to see. Birth should not be a death sentence to women … we need to end early marriage. It has a serious effect on social and health aspects."
According to the UN, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading causes of death for girls between the ages of 15 and 19 in poorer countries. Stillbirths and deaths of newborn babies are 50% higher among mothers under the age of 20 than among women who get pregnant in their 20s.
Efforts to address child marriage have been on the cards in Malawi for a number of years, but under the presidency of Joyce Banda, the issue has become more pressing. The issue has been included in the government's Safe Motherhood initiative.
Part of that initiative is to involve local tribal chiefs, working with them to encourage their communities to send their children to school, especially girls, and to dispel the idea that marrying off girls early will bring blessings to the family.
The issue of funding a child's studies past primary school, though, remains a challenge. Hara said the president herself currently funds a number of girls through school and is encouraging her ministers to do the same. Hara said the country does not have the money to fund free secondary schooling.
"She [Banda] is encouraging women ministers to identify girls to support, girls in our constituency in challenging situations," she said. "At the moment, there are no resources to make secondary education free, as there are so many challenges."
Hara said that giving girls four more years in school would have a positive impact on the rates of child marriage.
Poverty, though is a major driver of child marriage. Poor families marry off their daughters young, as it will mean one less mouth to feed, and the prospect of receiving a "bride price" – money or livestock in exchange for a daughter's hand in marriage – is particularly tempting in difficult times.
"It all boils down to poverty … young girls are being married off before puberty. Someone will come in and give a father a cow for a girl when they are eight or nine years old and when they reach puberty they will give another cow," Hara said.
Hara said the government is running country-wide consultations to garner support and understanding for raising the age of marriage. "The government is looking into doing consultation at local and national level to get everyone on board. Working with chiefs will make implementation and policing much easier. We need to ensure that people don't take this as a primitive measure, but take it as positive."