Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Spain, at least 21 suspects were detained in last week's police operation

Spain, at least 21 suspects were detained in last week's police operation. (Twenty-five arrests were made in Austria; additional arrests were also made in France, Italy, Switzerland, and Germany.) In nearly all cases, those arrested were ethnic Georgians. Suspected mob boss Kakhaber Shushanashvili, an ethnic Georgian, was among those arrested. Operating from Barcelona, Shushanashvili is believed to have run a criminal ring that reached throughout Europe.Speaking about last week's arrests, Spanish attorney Cesar Utrera Molina admits such news is unhelpful to Eastern immigrants in his country."This is news that will not help the reputation of the people who are from [the former Soviet world], but one should not exaggerate the impact it will have on public opinion," Utrera Molina says. "To associate a band of Georgians with all of those from the East is something that I don't think people could easily do -- yet there is certainly a negative dimension."
The apparent prejudice with which many Spaniards view Eastern European immigrants extends, in some cases, to a general ignorance of their nationalities and backgrounds. When news first broke of the arrests on March 15, Western European headlines touted yet another crackdown against the "Russian mafia."RFE/RL's Russian Service correspondent in Madrid, Viktor Cheretsky, says Spanish media continued to refer to the criminals as "Russian mafia," even after it became clear that the ring was composed almost exclusively of ethnic Georgians.Cheretsky says that the media took hours -- and in some cases even days -- to refer to the arrested men as Georgians rather than Russians.Cheretsky says Spanish journalists frequently use "Russian mafia" as a blanket term to describe criminal groups from across the entire former Soviet world."Any [criminal activity] that relates to Bulgaria or Romania or Poland or even Finland are attributed to 'Russia mafia' on many occasions [in the Spanish press]," Cheretsky says. "Imagine, they arrest a Finnish kingpin and they say he's a Russian mobster -- it's absurd. Above all, [criminals from] the former Soviet countries, from the Baltics, Ukraine, and Georgia -- all are called Russian mafia. This of course is not true."Cheretsky lays the blame on "bad journalism.""The police -- and I have good contacts with the police here [in Madrid] -- knew from the beginning that the [latest arrests] did not involve Russians."Immigrants now make up 12 percent of the Spanish population, with one-third coming from Eastern Europe.
Carmen Martin Nunez is a city councilwoman in Santander. She has worked closely with local activists, like Shkurnytska, on immigration issues. Martin Nunez says she rejects the cliche linking Eastern European immigrants with criminality.
"They are all people. This is not about groups," Martin Nunez says. "They have not come as groups; they have come one by one. And each one [brings] his hope to work, to make his life here."But that does not mean the relationship is necessarily trouble-free, she says."Are there criminals that come along with them? Of course. In Spain we also have criminals. But we do not say you are a criminal just for being Spanish."

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