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Talk of town

Castles and cheese, statues and statutes: There‘s whispering on the streets. Get these stories while they‘re hot and listen to what they‘re talking about.

Barcelona (Spain)

Should immigrants be granted a “certificate of appropriate behaviour” and “amicable cohabitation”? According to Alberto Fernández’s proposal of February 9th, 2007, those who “truly respect the society, the city, and the country they are living in” should be. Fernández is the candidate of the Municipal Popular Group party for the post of mayor of Barcelona.

The answers of various political immigrants’ groups in Catalonia are rather pessimistic. Jordi Hereu, mayor of Barcelona, speaks about the danger of establishing such certificates; he considers them as discrimination “based on home country, skin colour, and ethnic background.” Hereu reminds that rights and obligations “should be applied universally,” since “those rights and obligations are applicable for all of us.”

Athens (Greece)

The citizens of Athens definitely agree on one thing: no private universities. An amendment of the constitution opens the door to the replacement of the article stipulating that all centres of higher education “are under the responsibility of the State.” This amendment makes it possible to now launch private universities.

As soon as some left-wing students came to hear about this amendment, they hit the streets. The strikes have now lasted several weeks, and, far from losing in intensity, they are becoming more and more violent. One of the largest strikes took place on February 23, 2007, when more than 25,000 students from all over the country met in Athens; the result was a number of injured and detentions carried out by the local police.

London (United Kingdom)

The British seemed to have been sleeping during sex education. This is the conclusion one can draw from a publication by the British Association for Family Affairs. According to a poll conducted with 495 British adults, the Britons are completely lost or are not sure what the issue of sex exactly refers to.

The figures are quite alarming: 89 percent do not know that sperm can survive for seven days inside the body of a woman; 50 percent didn’t know when during a women’s menstruation cycle she is most fertile; and 29 percent of the respondents stated that jumping up and down right after having unprotected sex could avoid a pregnancy. Oops.

Brasov (Romania)

Again there is blood running through the veins of Count Dracula’s famous castle in Transylvania, Romania. Yet this time, the motivation is fuelled by an attempt to sell this fortress built in the 14th century; the Habsburg family has owned it since it was returned to the royalty last year 50 years after communist confiscation. The owners are asking for 60 million euros: The Romanian government, unable to dig up the cash for such an acquisition, now must worry about a glittery Dracula hotel or a theme park with bloodcurdling rides.

Sankt Petersburg (Russia)

The Russian government has long been under fire from international human rights organisations. The Russian Minister of the Interior has denied recent accusations that some officers forced soldiers to prostitute themselves and benefited financially from it. One of the most striking cases involves an 18-year-old man who was beaten up and injured so severely that one had to amputate his legs and testicles.

The spokesman of the Soldiers’ Mothers Organisation confirmed that a number of clients in St. Petersburg were willing to pay for sexual relations with soldiers. The government is currently investigating.

Merchtem (Belgium)

Disputes over linguistic issues in Belgium are not new. At the moment, the mayor of a small town near Brussels has caused a stir. He prohibited using French in the region’s schools, wanting the children to learn Dutch instead. Anyone caught speaking French on school premises is to be punished.

The mayor assured, of course, that he has assigned a group of professors to advise those pupils who do not speak Dutch. Parents who have trouble with communicating on parents’ day can count on the help of interpreters.

Amsterdam (The Netherlands)

Nasr Joemann, secretary for the Contact Organisation for Muslims and Government, speaks about the difficult situation of the Muslim community; many have emigrated to countries such as France and Spain: they have felt discriminated against since September 11th. Now, vacant positions are filled by more radical clergy, allowing Wahhabism, an especially conservative interpretation previously unknown in the Netherlands, to find a foothold, creating tension within the community.

Talinn (Estonia)

A Soviet monument, “Soldier in Bronze,” is giving Estonian politics a nasty headache. President Toomas Hendrik Ilves refuses to put his signature under a law ordering the removal of this statue located in central Talinn within one month. The law also prohibits monuments that glorify the Soviet regime.

Ethnic Russians regard this as disrespectful to them, as the statue commemorates liberation from the Nazis during World War II. The government announced that they would move the statue to a more suitable location.

Warszawa (Poland)

Poland and Slovakia are embroiled in a rather cheesy dispute. It started when the European Union decided to certify the Polish Oscypek cheese as a trademark. The Slovakian Ministry of Agriculture objected just before the deadline, as they claim that their Ostiepok is, in fact, the original.

In order to prove the differences between the two cheeses, the Polish allege their Oscypek cheese consists of 60 percent sheep’s milk and Ostiepok cheese of 80 percent cow’s milk. Therefore, these two cheeses cannot be regarded as one kind. The European Union proposes the two sides come to an amicable agreement on their own.

Ankara (Turkey)

While Brussels discusses Turkish integration, the government in Ankara continues to deny the existence of a Kurdish minority in their country – a barrier in the Turkish application for the EU.

The leader of the Democratic Party of Turkey, Ahmet Turk, and his vice, Aysel Tegluk, have been sentenced to one and a half years of prison for distributing leaflets in their Kurdish language. According to the judge, this constitutes a violation of the Parties’ Law, which prohibits the use of another language other than Turkish at events and in party publications.

Author: Carolina Pirola

Translation: Louisa Karwat

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