A Sun headline --"Invasion of the Giro Czechs" -- was particularly offensive. But the Sun was not alone -- many newspapers asserted that the Romanies had come to Britain to take advantage of our benefits system and claimed the refugees were seeking the "good life".
As well as being racist, such articles are an insult to all benefit claimants -- it feeds the illusion that our social security benefits are foolishly generous and easily obtained. The reality, as anyone who struggles to live on state benefits will tell you, is an endless round of hassle and hardship which is light years away from the good life.
There was much less publicity given to the racism and racist violence these refugee families have suffered and the hate campaigns they have had to endure in recent years in the east European countries from which they have fled.
New Worker readers may remember a Postmark Prague report we published several weeks ago which described the appalling racism targeted at Romany people in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
The report said: "State and fascist terror were unleashed against the Romanies. They were evicted from their homes by right-wing councils in north Bohemia.
"Pogroms and street violence were organised by neo-Nazi skinhead gangs, as a result of which 28 Romanies have died, with hundreds more maimed and injured.
"Romany homes have been petrol-bombed or attacked by gangs. The 'democratised' police have often turned a blind eye, even showing sympathy for the attackers."
The discrimination is now so bad that according to the Czech government's Council for Nationalities, 70 per cent of Romanies are now out of work and those who can find jobs get paid well below the average wage.
The report also showed that in some places Romany children have been banned from using local swimming pools, some shops and restaurants refuse to serve "blacks" and adverts appeared in the press during the country's recent tloods offering to help victims "but not gypsies".
Also missing from many British press reports is the fact that Romanies in some parts of the Czech Republic have been urged to leave by the authorities.
Postmark Prague said: "A mayor in Ostrava pioneered the idea of solving the 'Romany problem' by 'encouraging' them to emigrate to Canada. In return for subsidising their air tickets, she demanded they return their flats to the council.
"This means, of course, that when the Canadian authorities return the vast majority of Romany asylum seekers to ihe Czech Republic, they will be homeless -- not to mention destitute, many of them having sold off all their possessions to raise the rest of the fare."
This terrible situation has gone hand-in-velvet-glove with the return to capitalism in eastern Europe. It is a direct result of growing poverty, high unemployment in countries where there once was none, cutbacks in public services, increasing stress and anxiety and mounting fear for the future.
Fear can quickly turn to hate. The new capitalist ruling classes of eastern Europe are afraid too -- afraid of the anger that could engulf them as the misery of capitalism bites harder and deeper into society.
Minorities, such as the Romanies, are made into scapegoats and the (now tolerated) neo-Nazi thugs are deliberately unleashed in order to try and turn peoples' fear and anger away from the capitalist class and its rotten system, and to direct it onto the hapless Romanies.
The Romany refugees are seeking asylum -- a place of safety. Unfortunately, their chance of finding that safety in Britain will be bleak if the government fails to move.
The Tories' Asylum law must now be scrapped as a matter of urgency. The rules must be changed to save local authorities from having to foot the bill for asylum seekers and to enable central government to resume its responsibilities.
Foreign Secretary Robin Cook says he wants Britain to have an ethical foreign policy -- perhaps the government will now commit itself to an ethical home policy which must include taking a stand against racism and racist asylum laws.
Defence Minister George Robertson last week defended the government's plan to boost Britain's Trident nuclear arsenal at a cost of some £300 million.
Within days the Health Secretary Frank Dobson was calling for the NHS to give social services some of the £300 million it had been allocated to stave off another hospital beds crisis this winter.
He told health authorities to pass £40 million to social services departments to enable them to provide more care in the community. This, Frank Dobson claims, will reduce the pressure on hospitals by enabling more patients to be cared for at home.
No one would deny that social services need more money. Care in the community is underfunded and its lack of resources does put extra pressure on the NHS.
But to take the money out of the NHS budget is scandalous, particularly when extra money for Trident is ring-fenced.
Frank Dobson was so eager to plug the idea that another winter hospital crisis could be averted by community care that he crassly said of the elderly: "If they can possibly be provided for at home they are better off than in hospital because hospitals are dangerous places full of people exuding germs."
The government seems to be getting quite good at dreaming up schemes to five the illusion of tackling problems caused by serious underfunding without actually providing the necessary cash.
One problem is the scandal of drug rationing in the health service. The government wants to stop the unfairness of allowing health authorities to decide which drugs and treatments it will pay for, leading to variations in patient care from one part of the country to another.
But it looks as if the government will try and solve the problem, by drawing up a national list of NHS-available drugs so that we all suffer rationing equally. Of course its not quite all -those who can afford to pay for medicines and treatment privately will continue to get the best that money can buy.
Medicines do cost the NHS a great deal ot money -- just over £4 billion last year.
The private companies producing these drugs make huge profits, which they always defend by pointing to the long-term investments they have to make in research and development. But even allowing for this high level of R&D, the big drugs companies do very well.
The government does not seem to have any plans for rationing these huge profits.
We say, scrap Trident, cut defence spending, end NHS rationing
and tax the rich!
Once the plans are in force, poor people will only be able to take up civil cases if the lawyers agree to fight on a no-win-no-fee basis -- as in America.
Those involved in criminal cases will still get legal aid.
The cuts are aimed to save some £300 million a year. The government claims that some lawyers are milking the legal aid system by taking on cases that stand no chance just to get the fees.
Lord Irvine told the solicitors' annual conference in Cardiff last Saturday: "No prudent person would run the risk of litigating out of his own resources with less than a 75 percent likelihood of success.
"I cannot see why the state should bear the costs of weak litigation where the penalty is on the unassisted defendant who cannot recover his costs from the legally-aided plaintiff."
But the changes mean that from now on, anyone seeking compensation through the courts for some injury will first have to convince their lawyer they have a cast iron case -- or the lawyer will not touch it.
This means in effect that most cases will no longer be decided on their merits in an open court but will be judged in private between the lawyer and their accountant on the basis: will the case succeed and raise enough money to make it worthwhile or not?
Complicated and difficult cases will be avoided. Lawyers will
avoid working for people who are not very articulate or who cannot present
themselves well in court. If you are hard up and your face doesn't look
sympathetic, your chances of even getting your case into a court room
And litigants will have to pay up front an insurance premium to cover the costs of their opponent in case they lose. The current Law Society insurance scherne has premiums of around £95 in road traffic cases and up to £15,000 for medical negligence cases.
Legal aid will still be available in family cases, of which there were. 582,000 last year. But even in these cases, they will have to have a 75 per cent chance of success to qualify for legal aid.
There were 932,000 civil cases last year of the type that will be cut.
And from April all would-be litigants will be free to try the no-win-no-fee arrangement with their lawyers.
Phillip Sycamore, president of the Law Society, said: "This is a massive cut in access to justice for a large section of society which is not consistent with the goal to create a compassionate Britain.
"What we're seeing in general terms is a considerable curtailment of the rights of many people in society, a lot of them poor people and very vulnerable."
And Vicky Chapman of the Legal Action Group warned: "This is going
to put enormous pressure on the advice sector from all these people who
are not going to be able to get legal aid from solicitors."
Britain and the United States have consistently blocked all moves on the Security Council to end the UN blockade, which has led to the deaths of over a million Iraqis through want of medicines and shortages of food. The United States has obstructed the limited "oil-for-food" deal approved at the UN with the support of the other veto-powers, Russia, France and People's China. Now, Washington and London are calling for a ban on all international travel by Iraqi military and intelligence officials.
But this was roundly opposed by France and Russia forcing Washington to back down. The Americans have deferred tabling their proposal for six months but are still pushing for its adoption at a later date. This has not been accepted in Paris or Moscow.
France and Russia are both eager to see the end of the blockade to re-establish trade links with Iraq and participate in the reconstruction of the devastated country. But their efforts at the Security Council, which since the end of the Cold War meets in virtual secrecy, are routinely stone-walled by the hostile Anglo-American stand.
Nevertheless, this week's events mark another set- back for the United States in the region. It is increasingly clear that Turkey's latest incursion against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq has failed.
The Turkish army has, of course, slaughtered thousands of civilians in its hunt for Kurdish Workers' Party PKK guerrillas but this hasn't effected the PKK's operations in its bases in Turkish Kurdistan. It has also further isolated the pro-Western elements in the "safe-haven" -- the feudal levies of the Kurdish Democratic Party who have been fighting side by side with the Turks.
Units of the pro-iranian Patriotic Union of Kurdistan have seized KDP positions in the mountains forcing Britain, America and Turkey to broker a cease-fire under the terms of the "Ankara peace process" which was setup to establish Nato control over the rival Kurdish militias in the "safe-haven".
Western attempts to isolate another Arab country, Libya, are also faltering. The relatives of the victims of the Lockerbie crash have called on Britain and the United States to accept Libya's offer for a trial of the two alleged saboteurs under Scottish law but not on British or American soil. More Arab and African countries are now ready to defy the Western-imposed air-flight ban on Libya and this week's visit to Libya by President Nelson Mandela of South Africa is taking place despite immense pressure from the White House to call it off.
It's not the end of the "new world order" in the Arab world --
but it may be the beginning of the beginning of the resistance to imperialism
in the region.
EDGING cautiously forward, the Irish peace talks so far refuse to be hampered by a combination of Ulster Unionist withdrawal and bi-lateralist tactics, and the unfolding uproar over alleged "ties" of the Irish government presidential candidate with Sinn Fein.
Both the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and Sinn Fein described the Ulster Unionist Party's performance as "play-acting" last Monday, following UUP leader David Trimble's short walkout from the second strand of negotiations in Stormont dealing with north-south relations.
Yet again, Sinn Fein chief negotiator and Mid-Ulster MP Martin McGuinness has voiced concern about unionist manoeuvres. "The UUP is attempting to erect a barrier to change. They are trying desperately to prevent change and that's what their antics were about on Monday."
Ulster Unionists withdrew for a period of "reflection" alleging that the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs David Andrews had given the impression that the Irish Republic's overall territorial claim to the Six Counties stood without further changes or discussion before a final settlement.
UUP leader David Trimble described this on Tuesday as a "hardening" of the Irish government's position displaying its "arrogant, illegal claims upon UK territory." But given that articles two and three of the Irish constitution -- defining the Irish nation as the island and it's nearby islets -- dates back to 1937, it is hardly likely changes would be ruled out prior to settlement as part of "confidence building".
And as leader of the SDLP John Hume pointed out on Tuesday as part of his comprehensive response: "The Constitution of Ireland is the fundamental political statement of the Irish people. Nationalists would not object to changes to it designed to remove any perceived threats to the identity of the unionist community, but would expect that their right to be part of the Irish nation would be unimpaired and fully expressed."
David Andrews said the articles "will be discussed during the substantive element of these talks", and pointed out that Dublin, as with the other participants, has yet to engage in the "nitty gritty of the negotiations."
And David Trimble maintains his bilateralist stance in the talks, arguing that this approach better accommodates Unionist opinion -- a view contradicted by leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) Ian Paisley who is calling on the UUP to make up its mind whether to stay in or get out and join unionists opposed to the talks.
David Trimble, in other words, wants to by-pass Sinn Fein and negotiate separately with the SDLP. But deputy SDLP leader Seamus Malon said on Tuesday that this must ultimately be a part of the "process involving all of the parties present." At the moment, the UUP delegates are still apparently refusing to meet Sinn Fein directly in talks.
And while Unionist cat-and-mouse games proceed, the Irish presidential elections have thrown up another potential spanner in the talks which, according to Martin McGuinness, may be designed to undermine certain leaders in the peace process.
Leaked memos of conversations between Fianna Fail presidential candidate Professor Mary McAleese and Sinn Fein president and West Belfast MP Gerry Adams, have been seized upon by Unionists and other reactionaries as evidence of the professor's pro-Sinn Fein stance with the prospect of a pro-Republican Irish President.
The controversy stems from Mary McAleese's involvement with Belfast Redemptorist priests striving to build a consensus between the SDLP and Sinn Fein before the Six County elections this year. But the attacks were pumped up because Gerry Adams had voiced his support for Mary McAlesee -- the government candidate.
The Alliance Party, a participant in the talks process, intervened calling her candidacy "divisive" and a "distraction". She responded: "The fact that I talked to Sinn Fein does not make me a member or a supporter -- any more than talking to Her Majesty the Queen made me a Unionist."
Martin McGuinness commented ominously: "We think some very sinister forces are behind all this. I have an open mind...but I think there were peopie who were part of the previous government who are now leading the charge in attacking key players in the peace process."
In fact, that's not the real "scandal". What is outrageous is that a bone fide member of the Sinn Fein negotiating team should have to suffer harassment by the British-controlled RUC which is acting as though the ceasefire had never happened.
Siobhan O'Hanlon was intercepted by the RUC on 8 October in West Belfast as she returned from Stormont. Held for over half an hour, the RUC rifled her business committee, decommissioning and various sub-committee papers.
Gerry Adams, who is calling for an investigation, said: "This is a clear breach of the confidentiality which must surround the talks process. There is a special onus on the Irish government to ensure that all citizens in the north are not subjected to harassment."
And as the talks continue, once again the spotlight falls upon the conflict in northern Ireland with the unwarranted killing of Dermot O'Neill by a British police marksman.
Sinn Fein's submission to the first strand of talks is a comprehensive statement of serious political intent and diplomatic good will, calling For a "political consensus which is best expressed in the form of a national representative democracy"
Warning that a "crisis management approach will not produce a durable solution", the document calls upon the British government "without qualification" to act upon the Downing Street Declaration and create conditions for Ireland's people to "exercise their right to self-determination".
And by this it meant. "A nation's right to exercise the freedom to determine its own political, social, econornic and cultural development, without interference or impediment and without partial or total disruption of the national unity or territorial integrity." The concept of consent, it said, must be established through this process.
Sensitive to the unionist perspective, the document recognises that agreement has to be met on "security structures with which both nationalists and unionists can identify on the basis of political consensus."
But while calling upon the British government to "outline a programmatic approach on issues of equality", Sinn Fein also understand that the creation of new structures would "include institutional recognition of the special links that exist between the peoples of Ireland and Britain as part of the totality of relationships, while taking account of newly forged links with the rest of Europe." Therein lies a central issue.