Friday, August 14, 2009

More about the ship Rudnicar and captain Gorbatenko

In my June 4 post The Rudnicar mission, I had written about the two 1939 voyages of the ship Rudnicar under the command of Anton Prudkin. The Bulgarian Jew Baruh Konfino had organized them to bring Jewish refugees from Bulgaria to Palestine. Reader Chaim left the following comment:

"Many thanks for your article regarding Rudnichar. I was among the fortunate ones to be on it. I was 2 years old then. My parents told me that they came to shore of Palestine in barges. We arrived in January 1940. What I understand is that it was the 4th voyage of the Rudnichar. I wish to know from what port did it sail and who was the captain. This link reports on 3rd voyage."

At the Air Group 2000 site, I found information about the later Rudnicar voyages (after Prudkin's resignation). It is supplied by Atanas Panayotov, quoting the German professor Jurgen Rohwer. I'd immediately refer the Bulgarian reader to this site, and here I'll translate the relevant parts of the text. After the first two voyages under Prudkin's command, the Rudnicar made two more with Grigoriy (Grigor) Gorbatenko as captain.

"In Tel Aviv, our team met and talked with Baruh Konfino's younger son, Itzhak Konfino... He was certain that his father had never approved hiring Anton Prudkin as captain and fully trusted captain Gorbatenko, under whose command Struma perished... The captain's exceptional professional skills are illustrated by what happened on Nov. 7, 1939 (during the third voyage of the ship - M.M.). The Rudnicar and the Cooperator dragged by it found themselves in a heavy storm and only the navigation expertise of Gorbatenko allowed the crew to bring successfully the two ships back to the port of the Rodos Island for emergency repair...
The fourth voyage of the Rudnicar took place from Dec. 1, 1939 to Jan. 7, 1940, between the ports of Varna, Sulina and again Varna and then to Palestine. The passengers were approximately 500..."

This voyage brought my reader, then a young child, and his parents to Palestine. It was the last voyage of the ship bringing Jewish refugees to Palestine. Shortly after it, the Rudnicar was rented by a German company to be used as a cargo ship. As mentioned in my earlier post, its end came in 1942 because of captain's error.
"It is difficult to say why Dr. Konfino did not appoint Gorbatenko as captain of Salvador. The experienced navigator would have prevented the tragedy of Dec. 14, 1940, when 204 passengers, including 66 children, perished. Itzhak Konfino claims that his father had virtually no part in organizing Salvador's voyage, which explains Gorbatenko's absence from this ship." (In my earlier post, another explanation is given - that "no one serious captain agreed to take its command because everybody feared that the passengers and the crew were doomed"; however, the source used there is apparently biased against Konfino, so I would not judge without additional information.)
The Air Group 2000 site then describes the fatal voyage of Struma. According to it, Turkish authorities were not happy with the evacuation of European Jews to Palestine through Turkish waters, but did not want to openly take measures to stop it. Instead, they deliberately ordered Struma to spend more and more days in a limbo, relying on the Soviet submarines known to lurk in this region to do the dirty job. These submarines considered all ships in sight as German and had submerged the Turkish ship Chankaya only days before Struma and almost at the same spot.
Captain Gorbatenko is described by sources as "a Bulgarian of Russian origin". I suppose that he was an ethnic Bulgarian who had no Bulgarian citizenship, because he wasn't treated by the authorities the same way as the other perished Bulgarian crew members. Death certificates were issued to their families but not to Gorbatenko's family. His relations awaited the document for decades.
Struma, "the Bulgarian Titanic" as Panayotov calls it, and the people on its board - passengers and crew, are all but forgotten in Bulgaria. However, the memory is kept in Israel. The source mentions that Dr. Sonya Levi, of Bulgarian Jewish origin and researcher at the Yad Vashem memorial complex in Jerusalem, helped to find the names of Bulgarian crew members. They are:
Grigor Timofeev Gorbatenko, Lazar Ivanov Dikov, Damyan Stoyanov and Osep Garabedov.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Bulgarian resisting corruption is punished by authorities

Architect Georgi Yanev (not to be confused with demagogue politician Yane Yanev) is well known in Bulgaria as practically the only ordinary citizen who tried to fight the massive corruption in the country. First, I am translating part of the Mediapool article Agricultural minister "forgave" architect Yanev for alleging corruption (Feb. 6, 2008), changing the order of some sequences for clarity:
"Architect Georgi Yanev filed a complaint about a 50,000 leva (EUR 25,000) bribe asked from him by two officials from the Republican Road Infrastructure Fund. Last week, a journalist asked him why he, wanting to change the statute of a piece of land, preferred to bypass the Ministry of Agriculture and Food and turn to the road administration. (Yanev) answered that "corruption in the Agricultural ministry is a nightmare". Immediately after that, (agricultural) Minister Nihat Kabil gave him a deadline until Feb. 5 (i.e. 24 hours - M.M.) to either prove or retract his words. "If I do not receive an apology, I will report (Yanev) to the Prosecutor General for libel against a government institution," Kabil threatened... Architect Yanev publicly apologized to the agricultural minister for "having delivered in public space, in a moment of stress, allegations for corruption that cannot be proved". The Minister of Agriculture accepted the apology..."
The next translation is from the June 13, 2009 article "Authorities deceived the architect whose courage they had awarded," by A. Aleksandrov in Sega daily:
"The case with the corrupted officials in the road fund will discourage even the most intrepid from testifying against corruption... The story began in 2008 when after a complaint by architect Georgi Yanev two officials from the road agency were arrested for demanding a bribe of 50,000 leva in order to manage quick acceptance of his project. The arrest of the employees as they were receiving the first half of the bribe was made in a very public way. From the 25,000 leva, 10,000 belonged to the architect and 15,000 to the police. This happened just shortly before one of the important European Commission reports warning that the European money for Bulgaria would be stopped (unless corruption is fought)... The (previous) government several times pointed this story out to Brussels as an example of successful anti-corruption measures. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and the prosecution awarded Yanev... Then-Interior Minister Rumen Petkov and Prosecutor General Boris Velchev boasted and repeated many times that they need more citizens like him...
What a surprise when it turned out that the same authorities, after forcing the architect to give his own 10,000 leva to be labeled for proving the corruption, has no intention to give the money back to him. In the beginning, we were told that the money in question was forensic evidence and could be returned only after the case had to pass through the court... Here you see the first insanity - to charge somebody with corruption, Bulgarian authorities represented by the police and the prosecution take money from the victim of the crime for labeling... Is it so impossible to take the money from the Bulgarian National Bank and later return it back there?... Police and prosecution do the same with victims of telephone frauds - those who complain are forced to give their own money for labeling. In other cases, again under the pretext of "keeping forensic evidence", authorities were holding stolen and then found cars for years... It turns out that crime victims become victims of the state as well.
However, this wasn't everything in the case of the architect. Suddenly tax authorities remebered that he owed them 4,000 leva. They even blocked his bank account, and he had no money to pay because another government institution was holding his 10,000 leva...
In the last verdict sentencing the two accused officials from the road fund (one of them got 4 years, and the other who actually took the money just a suspended sentence - M.M.), the court surprisingly ordered confiscation of the money in question. It explained that the behaviour of the witness Yanev deserved condemnation because the project presented by him for approval "had apparent flaws". Therefore, by giving the sum he actually asked the accused for assistance and they just agreed..."
According to a today's report in Trud daily, those same judges said in their verdict that Yanev should be charged as co-defendant for giving the money.
To sum up, what is the result of being a good citizen, speaking out about corruption and helping law enforcement agencies to charge corrupted officials? - A fine of EUR 5,000, the danger of being prosecuted plus the humiliation of a forced apology to a notoriously corrupted minister.
To me, the most disturbing thing in the story is that back in 2008, when it was first made public, a number of journalists and analyzers immediately predicted that Yanev would be forced to pay a high price for his courage and honesty.
You can read about the case in English at the Frog News site, here and here.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Another defender of Chechens murdered

Natalia Estemirova (photo copied from the Guardian, original source Memorial).
After Anna Politkovskaya, another brave woman campaigning for human rights and speaking out against the Chechen genocide has been murdered in Russia. Below, I am quoting her Wikipedia article:
"Natalia Khusainovna Estemirova... (28 February, 1958 – 15 July 2009) was... Russian human rights activist and board member of the Russian human rights organisation Memorial. Estemirova was abducted by unknown persons on 15 July 2009 around 8:30 a.m. from her home in Grozny, Chechnya, as she was working on "extremely sensitive" cases of human rights abuses in Chechnya. Two witnesses reported they saw Estemirova being pushed into a car shouting that she was being abducted. Her remains were found with bullet wounds in the head and chest area at 4:30 p.m. in woodland... near the village of Gazi-Yurt, Ingushetia... In October 2007 she was awarded the Anna Politkovskaya Award by Reach All Women in War (RAW), a human rights organization supporting women human rights defenders in war and conflict. Estemirova worked with investigating journalist Anna Politkovskaya and human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov, both of whom were also murdered, in 2006 and 2009, respectively..."

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

"Accused stabs witness to death in courtroom"

The late Marwa El-Sherbini with her husband and son. Photo copied from Europe-Turkmen Friendships, original source unknown.

This post is a tribute to an opponent - a Muslim woman killed in Germany. Different sources give slight variations in the details of the case. The large quote below is from Wikipedia:

"Marwa Ali El-Sherbini (October 7, 1977 – July 1, 2009) was an Egyptian pharmacist... She was killed during a hearing at a court of law in Dresden, Germany, by a man against whom she had testified after being insulted for wearing an Islamic headscarf.

El-Sherbini was... daughter of chemists... In 1995 she graduated from the El Nasr Girls' College, where she also acted as a student speaker. She was a member of the Egyptian national handball team from 1992 to 1999. From 2000 to 2005 she studied pharmacy at the Faculty of Pharmacy of Alexandria University, obtaining a bachelor's degree.

In 2005, El-Sherbini moved with her husband to Bremen in Germany. In 2008, the couple and their two year old son moved to Dresden, where her husband Elwi Ali-Okaz, a lecturer at Minufiya University, obtained a doctoral research position at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics. At the same time, El-Sherbini worked at the University Hospital Dresden and at a local pharmacy, as a part of an accreditation scheme to practice pharmacy in Germany. Together with others, El-Sherbini founded an association (Eingetragener Verein) with the aim to establish an Islamic cultural and education centre in Dresden. At the time of her death El-Sherbini was three months pregnant with her second child.

In August 2008, Alex W. (a German citizen, born in Perm, Russia of German ethnic origin) shouted abuse at El-Sherbini in a public playground for children in Dresden, in a quarrel over the use of a swing by his niece and El-Sherbini's son. El-Sherbini, wearing an Islamic headscarf, was called an "Islamist", "terrorist" and "slut". Others present tried to intervene, but Alex W. continued the verbal abuse for several minutes until the police arrived at the scene...

Alex W. was charged with defamation, pressed by El-Sherbini, and found guilty by the district court of Dresden, issuing a fine of 780 Euro. During the trial Alex W. claimed mitigating circumstances for the act of insulting El-Sherbini, suggesting that "people like her" were not real humans and therefore cannot be insulted. The Public Prosecutor successfully appealed the verdict to achieve a higher conviction due to the openly xenophobic character of the incident.

At the appeal hearing at the regional court in Dresden, 1 July 2009, eight persons were present in the courtroom: a panel of one professional and two lay judges, the prosecutor, Alex W. as the defendant, his defence counsel, El-Sherbini as witness for the prosecution, and her husband and son as members of the public. No security personnel was present and no security searches of individuals and their possessions were carried out, common in cases without anticipated security concerns and with no persons under arrest present.

After El-Sherbini had testified, Alex W. strode across the courtroom and attacked her with a knife, by stabbing her 18 times while allegedly shouting "You don't deserve to live!". El-Sherbini's husband, Elwi Ali-Okaz, attempting to protect his wife was stabbed to the lung and hip area. A police officer, who was in the court building testifying in an unrelated case was called to the scene to intervene, but mistook Elwi Ali-Okaz for the attacker and shot him in the leg. Elwi Ali-Okaz... was in a coma for two days... El-Sherbini died on the scene... Alex W. is currently held... on suspicion of murder of Marwa El-Sherbini and attempted murder of Elwi Ali Okaz...

The killing was reported on 1 July 2009 in German radio and television and in print media on the following day. In line with common media practice regarding crime victims, due to stringent privacy laws in Germany, El-Sherbini was in the initial media reports only referred to as "a 32-year old witness". The Minister of Justice for Saxony... who had visited the crime scene on the same day, publicly expressed condolence to the "young woman and her family"... The Association of Judges in Saxony (Sächsischer Richterbund) demanded a review of security procedures in court buildings. According to the British media, the German media initially reported on the case at "the back page", and only in the light of the vociferous protests by thousands of Egyptians in Cairo against an apparent "Islamophobia", the German federal government, which had kept silent for nearly a week, issued words of sorrow...

On 6 July 2009, at El-Sherbini's funeral, in Alexandria, mourners referred to her as a "martyr of the head scarf"... Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad blamed the German goverment for El-Sherbini's murder and called for international condemnation of Germany.In a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad demanded firm action against Germany and stated that "there is a strong view that the crime was a pre-planned attempt engineered by the judicial system and security forces"."

Now, my thoughts about the case.

In line with the good tradition not to criticize the dead (especially if they have suffered a horrible and violent death), I won't comment on Ms. El-Sherbini - not in this post at least. However, while I may disapprove the victim's behaviour, I am utterly disgusted by the murderer. (May I omit the mandatory "alleged"? Thank you.) Not only because he is a murderer, and motivated by hate, but also because he is a narcissistic psychopath feeling entitled to decide who deserves to live and who doesn't. And what disgusts me even more (though I may show sexism here) is that he is a man and he chose a woman as his victim. I strongly hope and expect him to receive the maximum sentence existing in German law.

From the reactions to the murder, most impressive is the grotesque cynicism of the Iranian regime and its leader Ahmadinejad. Apart from the above mentioned official letter to the UN, Iranian authorities allowed and encouraged (if not ordered) public events to commemorate El-Sherbini and progest against Germany. You can see e.g. a photo of a symbolic funeral of Marwa El-Sherbini in Tehran on a post by German immigrant blogger Rose-Anne Clermont. In other words, anti-government protests are banned, but if you folk still feel like protesting, you are welcome to rally in front of the German embassy... I wonder, do Ahmadinejad's thugs really think that if they shed crocodile tears about Marwa, this will make their people forget Neda and all other innocent, freedom-loving Iranian women and men murdered by the regime? I fully agree with Azarmehr that this is hypocrisy beyond belief.

Most of the reactions in Egypt were also, to my opinion, far-fetched (to say the least). However, I prefer not to report them here. I hope that Egyptian people were just venting their shock, grief and anger in words without contemplating any actions. And as days are passing and we aren't hearing of any revenge against Germans, this explanations seems more and more probable. I hope also that I won't have to correct myself here.

Briefly, the weird accusations and conspiracy theories rotate around two facts - that nobody stopped Alex W. from stabbing Marwa 18 times and that the policeman shot Marwa's husband instead of the attacker. I would ask Muslims and their Western leftist friends (e.g. at the Guardian) to lighten up a little and call their common sense. Few are the heroes who, seeing an armed homicidal maniac in action, would rush to stop him and risk becoming his next victim. And it is so natural for police to make mistakes in disastrous, split-second situations. I have heard of quite a few hostage release operations where police have shot bystanders and hostages instead of the kidnappers.

However, there is a point where I fully agree with my Muslim opponents and wish to give them a shoulder. This is the way the crime was initially reported - at the back pages of newspapers, with headlines that didn't mention a word that it was a hate crime and the victim was a Muslim. I borrowed such a headline from Die Welt, Accused stabs witness to death in courtroom, as a title for this post. Doesn't it sound absurd? I found it in a post by a blogger trying to prove that German media did report the case timely and properly. If you are defending the wrong opinion, the usual result is that the more you put "arguments" for it, the more its wrongness is exposed.

Muslims and Leftists were quick to say that the murder of a Westerner by a Muslim would receive far more publicity, and cited the case of Theo van Gogh. To me, this example is irrelevant because van Gogh was already a celebrity when he was murdered. When the Western or "Western wannabe" victim has been an ordinary person, I have observed absolutely the same pattern of ignoring the case and its hate motivation, sweeping it under the carpet and reporting it in the back pages with the smallest font available. Just remember Kriss Donald, Ilan Halimi and Aqsa Parvez. In fact, the headline from Die Welt immediately brought to my memory the (in)famous Washington Post headline about Aqsa Parvez's murder: Canadian teen dies; father is charged.

Hate crimes are an important thing, especially during a global war. And they must be reported. At least I think so. One can say that straight reporting of hate crimes may perpetuate the hard feelings, trigger revenge actions or make some people emulate the culprit. All this may be true, but still I think that sweeping such cases under the carpet does more harm. And I would appeal to all my opponents to defend free speech and honest reporting. Because you never know when you will be the person needing it.