Sweden Allows for Foreign Fighter Returnees to Lead Normal Lives

By Ayurella Horn-Muller and Sarah Ouhlana for MIJ

Islamic State foreign fighters are coming home. But for European Union member countries like Sweden and the U.K. where do they go, exactly? How is their reintegration handled? Perhaps most pressing of all – what threat do these fighters pose to society?

A flag belonging to Islamic State fighters is seen abandoned on a motorbike in Palmyra, Syria. REUTERS/SANA, 2016.

To fight, or to die. A pledge more than 40,000 foreign fighters have made upon joining the Islamic State. Often travelling thousands of miles, these are men and women seeking to participate in armed conflict in one of the most terror-stricken regions in the world. While the reasonings behind becoming an Islamic State foreign fighter may vary, one thing appears certain. Those that commit to the caliphate’s mission – do it for life.

Official figures published at the end of last year confirms that at least 150 IS fighters have returned to Sweden. In the EU alone, an estimated 30% of foreign fighters have returned to their home countries.

“First of all if there are suspicions of crimes, they need to be investigated. And any such crimes should be punished. But after that we need structures locally, such as social services, around our country to integrate them back into our democratic society.” Sweden’s Minister of Culture and Democracy, Alice Bah Kuhnke made international headlines early last year for suggesting that municipalities should be expected to re-integrate Islamic State fighters.

Do Kuhnke’s claims ring true in how Sweden handles all returnee fighters? Säkerhetspolisen, Sweden’s Security Police, confirmed that they manage each foreign fighters on a case-by-case basis. The organisation’s press secretary, Sofia Hellqvist, repeatedly denies the existence of a formalised process. “We have conversations with those returning, and if there is reasons to assume that crimes have been committed, a preliminary investigation is initiated, which opens up for investigative measures. For example, interrogation and secret coercive measures…”, she told MIJ.

Säkerhetspolisen told MIJ that they look into every individual who have returned to Sweden after resigning to join terrorist organizations abroad, assessing if they intend to commit terrorist offenses and if they have the ability to do so. This process is pursued primarily because it has appeared in recent european studies that some returnees may have intentions to commit terrorist offenses in their home countries. Returnees who perhaps also have increased abilities, such as experience of fighting or handling weapons and explosives. According to this same institution, the security police is constantly working on mapping, assessing and putting in actions against persons who they believe may constitute a threat. The source admitted not to be able to explain the process more concretely without compromising on their working and assessment methods.

During her interview on SVT, the Swedish minister of Culture and Democracy, Alice Bah Kuhnke, also revealed that “too few” returnees (between 10 and 30) had been supported by the municipalities to integrate back into Swedish society. The minister has not responded to requests for further comments. However, one essential question remains – with only two documented cases of jailed foreign fighters, what has become of the remaining 148 citizens who have returned to Sweden? When questioned, Säkerhetspolisen refuses to comment on their whereabouts, nor will they provide documents or updates on these individuals and whether they have been involved in any sort of criminal activity after their return.

Yet, one of these individuals can be traced right back to Gothenburg, Sweden.

Pictured from left to right: Faten Al-Mandlawi and Omar Bailey. Photo taken by Lena Garnold, Metro, March 2009. Faten was selected as one of three students, alongside Bailey to take part in a 3 year welding course, an EU initiative funded by European Social Funds.

Faten Al-Mandlawi is a Swedish citizen who traveled to Syria in 2013 and joined IS forces with her brother, Hassan Al-Mandlawi. The siblings have been back in Sweden for nearly 3 years now and Hassan has been convicted this spring for terrorism, and serves a lifetime sentence in jail. As for Faten, a source tells us she is leading a normal life in Angered, an outer part of Sweden’s city of Gothenburg, and reveals that most of the Al-Mandlawi family oldest friends have distanced themselves from the family since the siblings publicly posted videos of beheading IS victims in Syria on their social media sites. Faten has since changed her name to Fatosh to avoid public recognition. Contacted by our team of journalists, the Al-Mandlawi family has yet to respond to our requests.* Säkerhetspolisen have also declined to comment on the status of Faten’s freedom.

While Sweden allows foreign fighter returnees to lead normal lives upon return, the U.K takes a very different approach.

Routinely incarcerating and at times, denying re-entry to citizens upon attempted return, British authorities have powers including Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures to closely monitor and ban suspects from re-integration. Here again, there are no publicly accessible figures about the number of times the measures have been used  and how many returnees it regarded. A spokesperson for the Home Office confirmed that around half the 850 British citizens who travelled to join ISIS had returned, but couldn’t express any further comments on those remaining, killed, or denied re-entry.


10 years of Kosovo: a labyrinth of truth

  • by Rajmonda Rexhi

Foto: crossing the bridge to enter the Northern region of Mitrovica (the main center of the Serb community in Kosovo)

Whilst the Kosovo-Serb communities learn about heroes such as Milosevic, the Kosovo-Albanians learn about Adem Jashari. Kosovo remains a segregated community living in parallel structures, despite various efforts and millions in investment of EU-tax payer’s money.

‘Before there were protests, now we fear … one part of our brain is thinking: will they come?’  a student in North Mitrovica explains. 10 years have passed since Kosovo declared it’s independence and 20 years since the full outbreak of the vicious war, still the segregation between the ethnic-Serbs and ethnic-Kosovars is visible.

The youngest of the Western Balkan countries is the country in which the most ‘intensive and expensive state-building intervention ever launched’. Various international actors have had their fingers in the pot and the EU is by far the largest donor. Yet, the country struggles to unify the whole population under one nationality. Whilst the ethnic-Kosovars consider themselves as part of a ‘Greater Albania’, the ethnic-Serbs culturally identify themselves with Serbia and remain influenced by Belgrade.

The war in Kosovo had an immense impact on economical, social and political infrastructure, and it shattered the social fabric between members of the society. Today ethnic-Serbs in Kosovo live in isolated communities and the inter-ethnic interactions remain low. According to a recent study made by the Center for Research, Documentation and Publication, there exist an unease and discomfort interacting with other ethnicities.

Milos Kabasic, the project manager for Advocacy Center for Democratic Culture explains that ‘youngsters [on both sides] are feed with propaganda and raised on hate speeches, so it [the fear] is reasonable. The challenges are the radicals, undermining the steps taken [towards reconciliation]. I believe that we are collateral damage from politics of both sides.’


Parallel structures of life

‘Kosovo has a state within its territory that controls. This does not further reconciliation and could hamper the reconciliation efforts that have been made’, Roland Sylejmani, a Kosovar student of sociology and civil society activist says.

The main challenge Kosovo stand before today is creating an integrated society for all. However, the Serbian meddling and pressure through its strong hold on parallel structures, particularly in the education and health sector, does not facilitate or promote integration.

‘Everyone is somehow dependent on Belgrade, because of salaries, pensions, health care and the social systems’, Milos explains.

So far there is no clear picture of how successful integration can be implemented in the field. This is not eased by the animosity the Serbs feel towards Kosovo-institutions, as well as Kosovar skepticism towards integration, caused by the heavy influence on communities by Belgrade.

The language and learning about history remains one of the main challenges in the country. Research show that history books from both communities ‘are full of propaganda and hate speech’, which is raising tensions and furthering the divide of the society. Schools may be physically divided following two different curriculums, but the conceptional divide is greater. History is learned through different heroes, emphasizing different version of truth.

Foto: historical statues in North and South of Mitrovica

The difference in languages is creating a barrier for dialogue. Alban Maliqi from the Network of Peace Movement believes that it is essential that a system of ‘dual language teaching’ is installed. The language is an important element if both communities are to live in a common environment. However, there exists a growing refusal within both communities to learn each other’s language.

I personally rather express myself in Albanian, because I have seen that the other community – in this case the Serb community – refuse to speak another language than their own’ – Roland Sylejmani says.


Reconciliation imposed by the West

‘Europe is our light, our air, our climate, but I personally do not have trust and do not recognize EU efforts as reliable’, Roland tells MIJ. This skeptic view of the interventions and efforts by the EU and other international actors can be found in both ethnic-Serb and Kosovar communities.

The most vivid case of impatience and dissatisfaction with the international community, especially the EU mission in Kosovo, was manifested in late august of 2014. Overnight cities with ethic-Serb and Kosovar population were glued with stickers and graffiti reading ‘EULEX GO HOME’.

The international community has been present in Kosovo for decades, with a focus on creating a functional multiethnic society through efforts aiming on reconciliation. Further, their focus has been on forming a dialogue between communities – especially Albanian and Serbian. However, after almost two decades of presence and with little to ‘no essential progress’, the trust in these institutions is fading. In practice, it has been shown that the attempts of reconciliation have been a difficult process that has not been embedded within the Kosovo society.


Reconciliation – EU conditionality

The EU facilitated dialogue between Prishtina and Beograd is a series of negotiations that initiated in 2011 between Serb and Kosovar government. These negotiations are hold in order to normalize relations between Serbs and Kosovars, as well as both countries are on their path to membership in the European Union.

However, until today Serbia claims Kosovo as its Jerusalem, strongly rejecting the independence. During several years these negotiations have resulted in various agreements, including issues such as freedom of movement across borders and mutual recognition of University Diplomas. 

However, according to Maliqi, ‘there is a lack of transparency about these agreements. We know through media about them, but when [we] start to move to Serbia you face the difficulties. You have to change [car] plates and do other things. So you see that the agreement is reached but not implemented, from both sides.’

The EU missions approach to reconciliation in Kosovo in not perceived as an organic process that has yielded the needed and wanted results. ‘Even though they claim to reach an agreement, you see that people are suffering – suffering in the border, suffering here’. Diplomas are yet to be recognized by either government, freedom of movement for persons and cars is hampered by unrecognized and denied ID’s, drivers license, as well as car plates, and constitutional rights are until today not recognized.

The path to a tolerant and integrated society for all in Kosovo is a distant reality. Milos does not believe in a near future of reconciliation, it all depends on global politics.

I think that in Balkan that will never happen, because there are a lot of beneficiaries in this situation.’ 

Maliqi, on the other hand, is positive for the coming future and the small steps taken, he can see ‘spots of light at the end of the tunnel’.


Assignment 3, Sophia

Så drar Göteborgsföretag in miljoner på “Macchiarinivis”

– norsk forskningsledare stoppar farlig studie i sista stund

Ett omskrivet bioteknikbolag fick mångmiljonbelopp för att få ut stamcellsbehandlade vener på marknaden. När metoden skulle testas på människor i Norge upptäcktes att kärlen inte fungerade och kunde ha lett till blodpropp. Kvinnan bakom metoden och företagets grundare, Suchitra Holgersson, utreds för forskningsfusk och är fälld för att utan tillstånd ha använt samma metod på barn.

Det biomedicinska företaget VeriGraft, tidigare NovaHep, mottog i somras motsvarande 21 miljoner kronor i bidrag från EU:s största innovations- och forskningsprogram, Horizon 2020. Ingen dålig prestation, då endast 69 av över tusen sökande europeiska företag beviljades. Bidraget skulle gå till att kommersialisera företagets produkt, stamcellsbehandlade vener. Som ett led i detta skulle kärlen testas på patienter i en av företaget sponsrad studie vid Oslo Universitetssjukhus.

Den helt nya metoden går ut på att individanpassa ett donerat kärl genom att först rengöra det från celler och DNA för att sedan ersätta dem med patientens egna celler, recellularisera dem. Detta på endast en vecka och med hjälp av en liten mängd av patientens eget blod. Fördelarna med en sådan produkt skulle vara en ökad tillgänglighet av möjliga transplantationsorgan och att patienten inte skulle behöva behandlas med immunhämmande läkemedel.

Kärlen har beskrivits som banbrytande – men fungerar inte
Studien på människor vid Oslo Universitetssjukhus var redan godkänd av den regionala etikprövningsnämnden. Men en ny forskningsledare ansökte ändå om att få kontrollera VeriGrafts påståenden om produkten i laboratorium och planerna på studien har nu avbrutits. Resultaten som kom i oktober 2017 visade nämligen att kärlen inte var recellulariserade som företaget påstått. Istället märkte forskningsledaren att två tekniker för att påvisa förekomst av celler gav falskt positiva resultat, kanske beroende på hur det donerade kärlet behandlats med företagets metod. I studien konstateras även att det finns risk för blodproppsbildning om kärlet skulle opereras in i en människa. Forskargruppen i Oslo har nu avslutat allt samarbetet med företaget.

Kärlspecialist Torbjörn Jonung konsulterades av den regionala etikprövningsnämnden innan studien godkändes. Han säger att det gjorde honom väldigt ledsen och upprörd när han senare fick höra att det handlat om forskningsfusk.
– Det har varit riktigt mycket sådana här saker på senaste tiden och det får inte förekomma. Men tydligen vill en del göra karriär till varje pris.

Patent togs efter experimentell kirurgi på barn
VeriGraft har under flera års tid hänvisat till de omskrivna transplantationer med stamcellsbehandlade vener som gjordes på tre svårt leversjuka flickor på Sahlgrenska Universitetsjukhuset åren 2011-2012. Dessa har använts som “proof of concept” och varit viktiga för att påvisa att metoden fungerar när man sökt bidrag och investerare.

Det var också en av grundarna av företaget, professor Surchitra Holgersson, som tillverkade kärlen som forskare på Göteborgs Universitet. Holgersson lämnade sin post som forskningschef på VeriGraft i början av 2016 men både hon och kirurgen Michael Olausson, som utförde operationerna, innehar royalties på framtida vinster. De tog del av ett nydanande samarbete på Sahlgrenska Science Park som var tänkt att föra samman forskning, sjukvård och näringsliv och metoden som utvecklats på universitetet patenterades av företaget 2015.

Etiska tillstånd saknades för transplantationerna
I mars 2016 inledde Göteborgs Universitets utredningar av de forskningsartiklar som skrivits om transplantationerna. Man kom fram till att metoderna var experimentella, då de varken testats på djur eller människa, och att man saknat tillstånd från både Etikprövningsnämnden och Läkemedelsverket. Vidare slog utredningen fast att det i artiklarna ändå felaktigt hävdats att man hade alla relevanta tillstånd.

En Lex Maria-anmälan har gjorts för vården av de tre barnen där man noterar att man inte hållit någon konferens för att överväga behandlingsalternativ innan de aldrig tidigare prövade metoderna valdes. Två av de tre barnen implanterades med kärl behandlade med blod enligt den metod som skulle testas i den norska studien. För ett av barnen tycks transplantationen ha gått bra men hon kommer sannolikt livslångt att vårdas inom den högspecialiserade sjukvården. Den andra flickan, som bara var två år, gick igenom två misslyckade operationer innan hon till slut fick levertransplanteras.

Enstaka fall används som bevis
I ansökan om EU-bidraget står det att “proof of concept” är väletablerat och även i etikprövningsansökan för den norska studien utgjorde artiklarna om de tre patientfallen en viktigt del när man utvärderade metodens säkerhet.

Professor Christian Munthe, expert i medicinsk etik, tycker att användandet av “proof of concept” ibland är problematiskt och att det inte finns vetenskaplig grund att tala om bevis när man bara har enstaka fall.
– Det är mycket vanligt med enstaka patientutfall som är jätteintressanta, men som, när du börjar upprepa, bara försvinner.

VeriGrafts VD, Petter Björquist, kan inte svara på hur man i flera år kunde tro att kärlen recellulariserades.
– Det man studerar kanske inte är som man tror vid första ögonkastet, säger han.

Misstänkta datamanipulationer i tio av Suchitra Holgerssons forskningsartiklar utreds fortfarande då hon begärde att ärendet skulle skickas vidare till Centrala Etikprövningsnämnden. Två av artiklarna användes av VeriGraft som forskningsunderlag för studien på människor. Resultatet av den utredningen väntas komma nu i januari 2018.


Company from Gothenburg makes big money the “Macchiarini way”
– Norwegian research leader stops dangerous study at the last moment

A biotechnology company received millions of millions of money to get stem cell-treated veins on the market. When the method was to be tested on people in Norway, it was discovered that the vessels did not work and could have led to thrombosis.
The woman behind the method and the founder of the company, Suchitra Holgersson, was investigated for research fraud and fired to use the same method for children without permission.

The biomedical company VeriGraft, formerly NovaHep, received this year’s equivalent of SEK 21 million in contributions from the EU’s largest innovation and research program, Horizon 2020. No bad performance, when only 69 of over a thousand European applicants were granted. The contribution would be to commercialize the company’s product, stem cell treated veins. As part of this, the vessels would be tested on patients in a company-sponsored study at Oslo University Hospital.

The brand new method is to customize a donated vessel by first cleaning it from cells and DNA, then replacing them with the patient’s own cells, recellularizing them. This in only one week and with the help of a small amount of the patient’s own blood. The benefits of such a product would be an increased availability of possible transplantation agents and that the patient would not have to be treated with immunosuppressive drugs.

The vessels have been described as groundbreaking – but do not work
The study of people at Oslo University Hospital was already approved by the Regional Ethics Assessment Board. However, a new research leader still applied for VeriGraft’s claims that the product in the laboratory and the plans for the study has now been discontinued. The results that came in October 2017 showed that the vessels were not recellularized as claimed by the company. Instead, the research leader noted that two techniques for detecting the presence of cells gave false positive results, perhaps depending on how the donated vessel was treated with the company’s method. The study also finds that there is a risk of blood clot formation if the vessel is to be injected into a human being. The research group in Oslo has now completed all cooperation with the company.

Vein surgery specialist Torbjörn Jonung was consulted by the regional ethics committee before the study was approved. He says it made him very sad and upset when he later learned that it was about research fraud.
“There have been a lot of such things lately and it must not happen. But apparently, some want a career at all costs.

Patents were taken after experimental surgery on children
For years, VeriGraft has referred to the rewritten transplantations with stem cell treated veins that were made on three severely livery girls at Sahlgrenska University Hospital in 2011-2012. These have been used as proof of concept and have been important to show that the method works when applying for contributions and investors.

It was also one of the founders of the company, Professor Surchitra Holgersson, who made the vessels as a researcher at the University of Gothenburg. Holgersson left her post as research director at VeriGraft in early 2016, but both she and surgeon Michael Olausson, who performed the operations, held royalties on future profits. They took part in a renewed collaboration at Sahlgrenska Science Park, which was intended to bring together research, healthcare and business and the method developed at the university was patented by the company 2015.

Ethical permits were missing for transplants
In March 2016, the University of Gothenburg launched investigations of the research articles written about transplants. It was found that the methods were experimental, when neither tested on animals or human beings, and that there was no permission from both the Ethics Examination Board and the Medical Products Agency. Furthermore, the investigation found that the articles still wrongly claimed that all relevant permits were available.

A Lex Maria notification has been made for the care of the three children, noting that no conference was held to consider treatment options before they previously tested the methods chosen. Two of the three children were implanted with vessels treated with blood according to the method to be tested in the Norwegian study. For one of the children, transplant seems to have gone well but she will probably be lifelong to be cared for in the highly specialized healthcare. The other girl, who was only two years old, went through two failed operations before she eventually got liver transplant.

Individual cases are used as evidence
The application for the EU contribution states that “proof of concept” is well established and in the ethical review for the Norwegian study, the articles on the three patient cases were an important part when evaluating the method’s safety.

Professor Christian Munthe, expert in medical ethics, thinks that the use of proof of concept is sometimes problematic and that there is no scientific reason to speak of evidence when only a few cases have occurred.
“It’s very common with single patient outcomes that are great, but, as you start repeating, just disappear.

VeriGraft’s CEO, Petter Björquist, can not answer how for several years they could think that the vessels were recellularized.
“What you study may not be as you think at first glance,” he says.

Suspected data manipulations in ten of Suchitra Holger’s research articles are still being investigated when she requested that the case be forwarded to the Central Ethics Examination Board. Two of the articles were used by VeriGraft as a research foundation for the study on humans. The result of the investigation is expected to arrive now in January 2018.

Assignment 3 – Chris and Fredrika

Alcohol legislation loophole allows un-“Safe Baltic Cruises”


An EU project of 800,000 Euros failed to decrease violence and sexual offences on cruising ships on the Baltic Sea. No facts are indicating a positive change according to the evaluation of the project.


A two-year project called Safe Baltic Cruises was launched in 2011 with the aim of decreasing the amount of sexual and other violent crimes from being committed on cruising ships on the Baltic Sea. Seven years later 800,000 euros have been spent and the statistics of sexual offences are still increasing. Moreover, an evaluation two months after the end of the project concludes that there are “no facts, […] in form of statistics, that indicate effect or positive change” of the outcome of the project.

Since 2014, a total of 144 incidents of sexual offences on the cruising ships trafficking the Baltic Sea have been reported to the Stockholm police, with the yearly number ranging between 30 and 40. The situation with violence and sexual offences on the cruising ships has been covered a lot by news media in Sweden, Finland and the Åland Islands in recent years.

All these articles have an effect on passengers behaviour during the cruises. “I stay on my guard all the time. It’s especially hard if I don’t have access to a cabin”, says Sabina Schauman, 23, from the Åland Islands who is a weekly commuter on the ferries.

The Safe Baltic Cruises project’s aims were temporarily fulfilled during the project period, when the sexual offences’ statistics decreased between 2011 and 2013, but shortly after the end of the program the numbers increased steadily again until 2017, when 35 sexual offences were reported to Swedish Police.

What makes the actual numbers difficult to estimate is that depending on where the ship is located at the time of the crime, the crimes are reported to the respective police authority of each country.

“We can for example have a victim from Sweden, a suspect from Finland and perhaps witnesses from another country. Then it’s difficult to get a coherent image of the criminal investigation, and we also have varying legislation and ways of working”, Stockholm City Police officer Olof Bratthall told SVT Nyheter in December 2011 about the initiative.

To make it even more challenging the police have to handpick the reported crimes from the ferries out of the large mass of reports, explains Bratthall.

The two major shipping companies operating on the Baltic Sea, Viking Line and Tallink Silja, both claim that they have their own statistics on crimes reported onboard. Both have refused to share the numbers with MIJ.

After noticing a vast increase of sexual offences reported from the ferries in 2008, Olof Bratthall called for international cooperation between the police authorities in the Baltic Sea Region. This was the start of the Safe Baltic Cruises project.

A large part of the project was to educate the ferry staff about responsible serving of alcohol. A common alcohol policy was formulated, but authorities have no more competence than to encourage the shipping companies to implement it on their cruises.

After a Stockholm’s police inspection to one of Tallink Silja’s ships it has been discovered that none of the agreements that made during the Safe Baltic Cruises program were followed, according to Yle Nyheter in May 2016.

In an interview with MIJ, Olof Bratthall expresses his concerns about the number of security guards on the ships. In contrast to nightclubs on land, the police do not have the authority to regulate the number of guards for the shipping companies, and according to Bratthall the amount of guards on the ships is too low in relation to the amount of guests.

When we asked the other major shipping company Viking Line about the policy for security guards, Johanna Boijer-Svahnström, Vice President Corporate Communications says that “We hire extra guards whenever we consider it necessary”.

To help people feel safer onboard, passenger Sabina Schauman suggests that less alcohol should be sold and served, while the surveillance should be increased.

“But that might be hard. The shipping companies profit on drunkenness. It sounds horrible, but that’s the way it is.”

The police are “powerless” as soon as the ship leaves the quayside, Olof Bratthall said to the Åland newspaper Nya Åland in May 2016. A loophole in the Swedish legislation that hinders the police from doing regulatory controls on international cruises was discovered in the beginning of the Safe Baltic Cruises project when comparisons between legislations in Sweden, Finland and Estonia were done.

“Swedish police are still waiting for new legislation”, Bratthall tells MIJ.

MIJ has unsuccessfully tried to get hold of the official documents for the Safe Baltic Cruises project. After reaching out on several occasions, Elisa Bertieri, communications officer at Central Baltic, replied with an email only a month after MIJ first contacted her.

“Here at the Central Baltic programme, we do not have projects that directly deal with safety on board cruising ships”, she writes.

On the other hand, the answer from the European Commission Press Officer for Regional Policy, Sophie Dupin De Saint-Cyr to MIJ’s request for information about the Safe Baltic Cruises project was “I invite you to get in touch with the Managing Authority of the Central Baltic Interreg programme”.

‘The Next Crimea’. Why Ukraine fears separatism on Hungarian border

By Liliia Makashova and Viktoriia Zhuhan

A resident of a border village in the western Ukraine sets the clock according to Budapest and buys tractors with money received from Hungarian government. He sometines serves wine for Ukraine’s Minister of foreign affairs Pavlo Klimkin at his own wine cellar, but is now indignant about the spoiled relationships between the countries.

Volodymyr Urst, a 47 years old hereditary winemaker of Hungarian roots, believes that the EU lifted visas for Ukrainians only thanks to Hungary lobbying for it. “Kyiv stripped local Hungarians off their rights soon after that. No wonder Hungary now wants to protect its citizens. Ukraine created own enemies on every border,” he resents.

This region is called Transcarpathia, and up to 10 of its citizens have appeared before the court accused of separatism since 2014. Urst tries to convince Ukraine is his true home, but he is confident: if a referendum would be held today, the idea for the regional autonomy for Hungarians would get a big “yes”.

Volodymyr Urst at his vineyard on the village of Bene, Zakarpatska Oblast, Ukraine

His family business owes its success to financial support from Budapest grants, he possesses a permanent residence permit in Hungary and “forces” his daughter to vote in Hungarian parliamentary elections. Like many ethnic Hungarians in the region, she holds two passports which is against Ukrainian legislation.

Ursts live near the town of Berehove which is a home to the biggest Hungarian minority in Ukraine. Buses from the nearby Mukachevo arrive there the same hour they set off:  (same like Urst does) the Hungarian “enclave” locals set their clocks according to Budapest despite official time zones.

According to the estimates, the region is  home to 150 thousand of ethnic Hungarians. Kyiv worries it could be the next Crimea while Budapest claims that the rights of its minority have been violated.

Ukrainian flag at Berehove City Council is overlapped by the Hungarian one that sways on the wind. The monument for soldiers who died fighting against separatists in Donbas is located right at the entrance to the city market where locals bargain in Hungarian about contraband sausages.

Streets, shops, and restaurants are marked in Hungarian. The teenage waiter takes orders from Ukrainian speaking clients only after they point into the menu. Many of his peers fail to pass national test in Ukrainian and don’t try to learn it. They enter Budapest funded Hungarian university in Berehove, listen to Hungarian speaking local radio “Puls”, and take seasonal jobs in Hungary.

Job offers in Hungary advertised in Hungarian and Ukrainian in Berehovo

In case they need to settle anything with Ukrainian authorities, they would come to the Subcarpathian Hungarian Cultural Association (KMKSZ) which helps with documents and translations, and provides advice. A man who came to the office of KMKSZ in Uzhorod refuses to talk: “Kyiv journalists twist our words and label us as separatists”. He acts defensively and refuses to introduce himself.

“We will knock separatism down”

Uzhgorod born Donbas veteran Taras Deyak, the leader of nationalist organisation Karpatska Sich, claims his brothers in arms will “knock separatism down” in Transcarpathia. He doesn’t hide that they are ready to apply force “if they find in necessary”.

Deyak meets his tattooed and short-haired comrades at a local bar in Uzhgorod. He tells that he manages groups of volunteers to monitor the situation in the region. According to him, these Ukrainian nationalists “talk to strangers in bars and public places to see if anyone has separatist views” or check on specific people according to “lists” obtained at source Deyak doesn’t disclose. They conduct “preventive conversations” and in extreme cases report about “suspects” to Security Service of Ukraine.

It was not possible to independently confirm the cooperation of Deyak and his men with Ukrainian intelligence service. According to Ukrainian registry of court decisions, less than 10 court decisions in the region have been made due to calls to separatism since 2014 when the war in Donbas broke out.

People with the symbolics of Deyak’s organisation and with flags of far right political party Svoboda tore down the Hungarian flag from the administrative building in Berehove and tried to burn it in November 2017. According to locals, those were people from other cities, who traveled to the protest all the way from central Ukraine. Deyak denies his men participated and condemns such actions.

Transcarpathia voted for autonomy in 1991 and was ignored

The question of local referendum had once arisen in Transcarpathia. It happened in 1991, together with national referendum for independence and the presidential elections. 78% of locals voted for “special status” within the independent Ukraine. The Parliament didn’t acknowledge the result even though 10 months earlier accepted the one when Crimea voted for autonomy within sovereign Ukraine.

Back in those days, the referendum was initiated by so-called Rusyns ethnic group who was supported by the Kremlin administration, Leonid Kravchuk, who then won the presidential elections, believes. He went to Transcarpathia before the local referendum.

“One couldn’t call that separatism. There was only slight focus on Rusyns minority’s problems”, Kravchuk says. Since those times, the “Rusyns issue” has never gained that much attention again.

The topic of Transcarpathian separatism got back into the discussion after the beginning of an armed conflict in the breakaway Donbas in 2014. While Budapest has been continuously supporting Hungarian minority in Transcarpathia for decades, President Orban’s recent claims about blocking EU and NATO integration of Ukraine made Kyiv authorities more nervous.

A Facebook post calling to dividing Ukraine between the neighboring countries

Those were caused by the new education bill which allows schools to teach only in Ukrainian. Hungary sees it as discrimination, but Venice Commission didn’t mention that in its opinion. Ukrainian ministry of education explained that the document was a framework law and would be complemented by the following laws.

“The preparation of an education law took about a year. And then Parliament added unconcerted amendments during the last 30 minutes before the voting.  Those changes harm minorities. We see this as a big mistake. It’s a question of trust now”, Laslo Chaba Pap, Emergency Envoy and Plenipotentiary Minister, deputy head of Hungarian mission in Ukraine, says. He claims that there is no such thing as separatism in Transcarpathia and wishes the region to achieve the level of other more developed regions of Ukraine.

“The border means lucrative opportunities. No border – no money”

The word “separatism” in the context of Hungarian minority now comes from Kyiv, claims Nadiya Lovha, deputy mayor of Berehovo. The Hungarian minority here is pro-Ukrainian and is “not numerous enough to act on any separatist ideas”, Carolina Darsci from Subcarpathian Hungarian Cultural Association (KMKSZ) says .

Laszlo Nagy (27) from Berehove has recently published a Facebook post saying that “Berehove has  always been bilingual, celebrating Christmas two times and setting the clock both according to local and Kyiv time zone”. Unexpectedly, he says, the post got almost 500 reactions and shares each.

Laszlo Nagy in front of the Hungarian university in Berehove he graduated from

“There is no opposition between Ukrainians and Hungarians here, it is happening only in social media”, Nagy believes. He speaks Hungarian at home, holds two passports and communicates in broken Ukrainian, which he “learned on the street”.  

Nagy’s hometown, except a big Hungarian minority, has two more peculiarities – only one set of traffic lights at the central crossroad  and a sign that shows the distance to three border checkpoints with Hungary.

The road sign pointing the distance to the border checkpoints and the sign in 4 languages

“Transcarpathia is all about business. Border means opportunities to earn money. If the border moves to the other side (in case when Transcarpathia is the part of Hungary – MIJ17), there will be no opportunities”, Laszlo continues. Under ‘opportunities’ he means smuggling and contraband. Those can look like both small family business and systematic organized crime.

Ukrainian procuracy has conducted a big operation intended to “counteract contrabanda” in Transcarpathia in November 2017. Officials keep its details in secret until now.

“My mother is Slovak, farher is Russian with Azerbaijan roots. I am a citizen of Ukraine and an ethnic Hungarian. I have a Polish name of Greek origin. An Orthodox priest baptized me, because there were no other (priest – MIJ). When asked at school which religion classes to go, I chose a protestant one just like my classmate”, Orest Kohut, a translator and tourist guide from Mukachevo says.

There are many people like him in Transcarpathia and separatism is just impossible with such national diversities, Kohut explains. He is confident that locals would prefer stability over any armed unrest.


Assignment 3 – Felicia, Matthew, Lucas (FML)

EU funded Israeli interrogation project ”breaches international law”

The European Commission is giving millions of euros to an international interrogation project coordinated from Israel, in partnership with the Israeli police force. According to experts, this is illegal and major participants are dropping off, but the EU is turning a blind eye to the criticism.

PICTURE: Law-Train is a modern interrogation training project funded by the EU (Law-Train)

When the new rector of the prestigious university KU Leuven in Belgium, Luc Sels, marched down the streets of Brussels wearing a traditional black toga on the opening day of the academic year, in September 2017, he was met by protesters. Not the protesters commonly seen on TV, wearing black hoodies and hurling stones, but peaceful academics protesting his university’s participation in a EU-funded interrogation training project in Israel, called Law-Train. These peaceful demonstrators gave him a cake with the text “3000 x thank you”, as 3000 Belgians had signed a petition to stop the interrogation project from continuing. This protest would make an impact on Sels in the months to come, forcing a change of heart.

Illegal to fund Israel?

Law-Train is an international EU-funded project, coordinated by the Israeli University Bar Ilan, once called “the most militaristic University” in Israel by the journalist Gideon Levy, because of its close ties to the Israeli army. The project started in 2015 and the current programme will end in March of this year. The goal is to create a mixed reality platform where it is possible for the participants to generate characters with changing attributes and parameters, making it possible for police to practice interrogation in a close to realistic environment from any country at any given time. The aim of the project is to fight international drug-trafficking.

This ambitious project is funded by the European Commission via the Horizon 2020-programme. It received over 5 million euros in funding and about half of the money goes to the Israeli entities involved.

The project passed with the best possible result in the Horizon 2020 Ethics Assessment in 2016. However, the ethics review has come under criticism, because it focuses mainly on the ethics of research and not on the political and ideological context on the country in which it was launched and by which it is coordinated.

Israel Ministry of Public Security

  • Founded in 1948, Israeli The Ministry of Public Security is responsible for public security, law enforcement and corrections, and oversees the Police, Israel Prison Service, Israel Fire and Rescue Authority, Israel Anti-Drug and Alcohol Authority and the Witness Protection Authority.
  • MPS states that their mission includes law enforcement and crime prevention; safeguarding lives and property; maintaining public order; protecting the public from terror attacks; incarcerating and rehabilitating criminals, and preventing drug and alcohol abuse.
  • Headquarters are located in annexed East Jerusalem.

“The evidence is clear that Israel uses interrogation techniques that constitute torture. The EU makes itself complicit in these techniques by cooperating with Israel.”, says Emeritus Professor of Law, John Dugard, former special rapporteur of Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

He and 25 other law experts have signed a paper calling for the Israeli Ministry of Public Security (IMPS) to be excluded from participating in Law-Train. This because, according to them, the funding of IMPS, breaches international law and the EU’s own Financial Regulation. They argue, as Dugard states, that IMPS is responsible or complicit in torture, other crimes against humanity and war crimes, and therefore guilty of grave professional misconduct as defined by the European Union’s Financial Regulations.

PICTURE: The Israeli Police are guilty of police brutality against Palestinians according to Human Rights Watch. (Flickr)

EU: We need a further in-depth analysis

The opinion paper sparked criticism in the EU-parliament, causing a reaction from Vice-President of the Commission, Federica Mogherini, “Taking into account human rights related EU actions, addressed to Israel, an ethic review and checks of this particular project of the Horizon 2020 programme as well its aim, one cannot conclude that the legal opinion of the experts necessarily should lead to the exclusion of the Israeli Ministry of Public Security from the programme without a further in-depth analysis”, she said in an answer to written questions from members of the Parliament voicing their concern with the project.

PICTURE: Vice-President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini (Wikimedia Commons)

Tom Moerenhout, researcher at Graduate Institute of International Development Studies in Genève, holds that the Commission “needs to take responsibility” and perform further in-depth analyses. He says it is crystal clear that Israel should be excluded from Law-Train, but he is not surprised by the actions of the Commission.

“As usual, short-term, geostrategic interests dominate Commission decision-making, and international law is a tool to support such interests whenever useful, rather than being a constant guidance, which is what it was designed for”, Moerenhout says.

George E. Bisharat, Emeritus Professor of Law at University of California Hastings College of the Law, puts it more frankly.

With due respect, Vice President Mogherini’s statement is diplomatic mumbo jumbo, and seems intended to obfuscate what should be a simple ethical decision, not to mention legal one.”


  • Funded by the European Commission, Law-Train is a program directed at tackling international drug-trafficking by means of a virtual investigation training system, developed through collaboration with governments, universities,  and professional businesses.
  • Mixed reality VR investigation platform allows law enforcement to generate and play out scenarios with “Virtual Suspects” in realistic environment
  • Being virtual by nature, the platform is accessible from any participating country at any time.

The Israeli participation “poses an ethical problem”

Criticism of the project does not only come from outside Law-Train. Countries involved in the project from the beginning include Israel (Ministry of Public Security), Spain (Ministry of Interior), Portugal (Ministry of Justice) and Belgium (Ministry of Justice). Soon after the project started, the involvement of Israel’s Ministry of Public Security raised criticism from different action groups. This eventually led to Portugal officially leaving the project in 2016, although their official reason was a lack of resources. Portugal’s previous justice minister said he was surprised by the pull-out and stated that it falls “within the budgetary and organizational responsibilities” of the ministry, according to The Times of Israel.

“The University will not participate in a follow-up project with the current consortium” Luc Sels, rector of KU Leuven

In December 2017, the new rector of Ku Leuven had eaten the cake he got from the Law-Train protesters and digested their criticism. Sels, wrote a critical open letter where he explained that KU Leuven will continue to take part in the project, until it ends in March 2018, but they will not be involved in any possible continuation beyond the spring.

“A late departure would only result in the reputation of KU Leuven being damaged as a reliable contact partner”, Sels says. He does however say that the University will not participate in a follow-up project with the current consortium. “The Israeli Ministry of Public Security’s participation does indeed pose an ethical problem in the view of the role played by this strong arm of the Israeli government in forcing an unlawful occupation of the Palestinian territories and the associated repression that the Palestinian population is undergoing”, he says.

This was seen as a major win for critics of the programme.To provide a better basis for participation in research projects in the future, Mr. Sels proposes that KU Leuven should develop a human rights charter together with four other Flemish universities.

Bar Ilan and Law-Train is yet to comment on the statements made by the rector of KU Leuven.

“Law-Train gives Israel legitimacy”

One of the legal experts who signed the opinion paper calling for the exclusion of IMPS is Pierre Klein, professor of International Law at Université Libre de Bruxelles, a person involved with issues dealing with the peace process between Israel and Palestine. He says the EU-funding of the IMPS is giving the ministry legitimacy.

“It can show that you are included in projects involving issues of security and dealing with security, and you are cooperating with external institutions which are very well respected. The fact that they cooperate with you would signal that indeed your behaviour is quite non-problematic, and therefore it would add some legitimacy, I believe to those policies”, Klein says.

PICTURE: Pierre Klein (ULB)

He thinks that KU Leuven’s stance towards the project is remarkable and could influence the state of Israel. “States, even though they sometimes pretend not to be affected by external reactions, most often are. They are very fearful of isolation, and I think that if such policies or approaches would be followed by a greater number of actors it could certainly have a more significant impact on Israeli authorities”.

Could cooperating with Israel change the Israeli Police’s methods, in a positive way, when it comes to interrogations?

“I think there is little doubt that the Israeli authorities in question are well aware of the problems which have been mentioned, we seem to be in a situation where external influence or cooperation obviously seem to have very little impact on those issues and therefore you may want to decide that it’s time to turn to other kinds of actions or reactions”, he says.

When MIJ contacted the programme coordinator, Bar-Ilan University’s Dr. Sarit Kraus for comment, she offered praise of the collaboration with IMPS, calling them “a valuable partner in LAW-TRAIN. The EU also considers them a valuable partner and has granted them many  projects.”  Kraus also believes that the program “has received high praise from the commission and is successful in delivering what we promised, a great success for the partners and Horizon 2020.”

MIJ have contacted EU commissioner Carlos Moedas and director-general Robert Jan-Smits, who are yet to comment on the issue.


Modern society’s most dangerous working environment

Former prison officer Lovisa Farge felt more safe working in a Swedish prison than being out on the town at night. A big statement from someone working in “one of the most dangerous and violent environments in today’s modern society” as described by the UK Union (POA).

Mara Stam & Maria Ljung

“Thirty people would come if you press the button”, Lovisa says about feeling safe at work. Prison officers in Sweden carry a personal alarm for emergencies. If anything happens there are a lot of people around who can help.

Lovisa’s experience is not representable for all prison officers. Across Europe, unions have raised concerns about poor working conditions and instead of seeing any change in the circumstances, violence against staff increases.

Exposed to violence and threat on a daily basis, UK prison officers experienced as many as 7,437 reported assaults from June 2016 to June 2017 in England and Wales. An average of twenty assaults a day and an increase of 25 percent from the previous year.

In the UK, independent authorities have emphasized the need to address staff shortages and insufficient pay to improve unsafe working conditions.

Dutch unions warn that the problems are even bigger than expected.

Four officers with 24 inmates is the norm in the Netherlands, while the management is struggling to get two officers on duty. The Unions warn that there are great safety risks, and claim that these are connected to budget cuts from previous years. Around 2,000 incidents involving violence against staff were reported in the Netherlands 2016 .

The issues Dutch prison officers face these days can be traced down to the Netherland’s   Masterplan “Prison Infrastructure” from 2013. Due to a decrease in prisoners, institutions were closed and the job market for prison officers became insecure. Prison workers are scared of losing their jobs and this has resulted in a shortage of employees.

Staff working conditions directly influence the situation for the inmates. When there is not enough personnel, tasks can simply not be done. In the Netherlands this results in for example contraband in the prisons. The prison officers do not have time to check cells and do regular body searches. Drugs and weapons find their way into the institutions, which affects the safety of both inmates and personnel.

Lovisa Farge also emphasizes this issue, “if we don’t have enough staff, we can’t do everything.” Prisoners can not go outside for their one hour break, and have to stay in their cells.

Kriminalvården (Sweden’s government authority responsible for custody, prison and probation)

has also experienced an increase in staff turnover over the last years. Educating new prison officers is costly, with an approximate investment of 250,000 SEK per employee.


The newly hired are also the likeliest to quit, both in Sweden and the UK.

With struggles to recruit and maintain staff, prisoners spending more time locked up and increased violence, many European prison systems seem to be caught up in a vicious cycle.

Although Lovisas experience from Kriminalvården provides a positive case in the larger european context, the future of prison officer’s working environment is unclear.

assignment 3 – Marta & Veronika

Drinking Coffee Remains Safe – At Least For Us

Consumers’ fears at rest. Despite life-threatening levels of toxicity in pesticides, our coffee is still safe for consumption.

Fears were raised by a report on coffee production that brought to light the use of highly toxic pesticides. However, the cup of coffee we treat ourselves to every morning does not poison us, experts say.

Whereas the pesticide poses a health concern for workers on plantations, the toxic substances are “readily broken down during the preparation of the coffee beans” and, therefore, never makes it into our cups, explains Erik Jørs, a senior consultant on the clinic of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the University of Southern Denmark. Jørs assures that there is “no problem for consumers.”

Brazil is the world’s top coffee exporter

The report by Danwatch, a Danish investigative media and research center, uncovered crude conditions under which workers on coffee plantations in Brazil, the world’s largest exporter of coffee, have to suffer and the usage of pesticides that are, for health reasons, banned within the European Union.

One of the substances used for the pesticides in question is Terbufos, a “very acute toxic organophosphate”, according to Jørs. The dangers associated with this chemical include acute symptoms of poisoning like reduced coordination, dizziness, shortness of breath, and, in acute cases, death. Furthermore, there is also the concern that many of these chemicals present an increased risk of cancer.

Despite the health issues associated with unprotected use of terbufos, our investigation suggests that the coffee we find on our own shelves at home is safe for consumption.