tv Focus on Europe PBS May 7, 2016 6:00pm-6:31pm PDT
♪ michelle: hello, and welcome to "focus on europe," where we delve behind the headlines and examine the lives of the people on this great continent. i'm michelle henery. thank you for joining us. on today's show -- sloakia's growing paramilitary force. overspending in spain -- a village impoverished by corruption. and, counting hungry crows in switzerland. here in europe the popularity of far right parties is on the rise. they have spread their xenophobic message on the back of fears about the arrival of hundred of thousands of migrants from the middle east and north africa during the refugee crisis.
one country that has become unapologetically outspoken about its fear of refugees is slovakia. it has been heralded as an eu success story after breaking away from czechoslovakia and forming an independent democracy. but a worrying development today is a remarkable increase in the number of paramilitary groups in slovakia. our reporter visited its largest, called the branci. reporter: twice a month they go to war. at least, that's what it looks like at first glance. these paramilitaries say they want to protect slovakia as though the country wasn't part of a europe at peace, but instead surrounded by enemies. >> if a future enemy sees what's going on here in slovakia -- if he sees a country that is prepared to defend itself, and its democratic values -- then that enemy will think twice about attacking. he'll think again before trying to take away our rights.
reporter: peter vrcek is the so-called commandant of the slovak conscripts paramilitary organization, slovenski branci. the 20-year-old and his troops say they're ready to fend off what they view as foreign threats to slovakia. that includes refugees. >> they're a security risk. and most importantly, a lot of them are here illegally. reporter: a lot of them? even at the hight of the crisis last year when thousands of migrants arrived in europe every day, only a couple of hundred ended up in gabcikovo, a villlage on the border with hungary. even that number caused an uproar in slovakia. now there are just a few migrants left here. the residents have grown used to them. >> they aren't doing anything wrong. they're here because of the war back home. i don't feel threatened. reporter: many say they're more frightened of the uniformed men in the forests nearby.
>> the branci are extremists. they're the ones that need to be controlled. reporter: members of the slovenski branci paramilitary are known to hold extremist, right-wing views. the group claims it only exists to protect democracy. but comments on internet forums reveal the opposite. conditioning, tactics, hand-to-hand combat. slovenski branci drills are demanding. the largest paramilitary organization in slovakia doesn't protect democracy. it poses a threat to it, says journalist michal havran. >> i'm very worried, because we know that a significant fraction of the slovakian army and police force are members of this group. it isn't a coincidence that the paramilitary is trained by professional soldiers of the slovakian army. and some police have also fought on the side of neo-nazis in right-wing brawls.
reporter: the kalaschnikovs that the members of the paramilitary carry are supposedly collectors firearms that have been disabled. but it's relatively easy to make them work again. the charlie hebdo attacks in paris last year were carried out with slovakian collectors weapons. at the interior ministry in the capital bratislava, authorities play down the possible dangers. individual extremists are under surveilllance, but not the paramilitary groups as a whole. >> in legal terms, these groups don't exist. if they break the law, then of course they'll be punished. but we can't ban groups like this. because as i say, legally they don't exist. reporter: in the neighboring czech republic, groups like the slovenski branci have long been banned. but in slovakia, a right-wing party is now represented in parliament.
michal havran warns that xenophobic paramilitaries could take advantage of the country's new political climate. >> i think they know this is their big chance. they're fighting to become accepted by the public. so their future depends on us -- on what we do with this country and this continent. if we don't resist, their influence will grow. reporter: in private, the commandant of the slovenski branci plays down his weekend activities. but the first-semester archaeology student knows exactly what he's doing. at 16, he traveled to russia for military training. and every month, more and more paramilitary groups are accepting his leadership. >> we have a reputation for being fascist or extremist. it's really unfortunate! that's why many of us have been fired, or have problems finding jobs. that happens to us all the time.
reporter: the young commandant might have even bigger ambitions. before long, he could decide to take his ideals out of the woods -- and onto the political stage. michelle: there is a town in spain that boasts a state of the art theatre, three museums, a large japanese-designed sports centre and a modern bullring. but it's not madrid or even one of the bustling cities along its vast coast, but a rural community with just 5000 inhabitants. despite the small size of la muela, it earned millions of euros during the renewable energy boom when windmills were installed here. but as a result of the vast public overspend and various cases of corruption by the former mayor, it's now not only broke, but mired in debt. the new mayor is hopeful, however, that their problems will soon blow over. reporter: in la muela, they know all about making money out of
air. hundreds of windmills put the village on the map and filled the local coffers. but the wind has shifted. now, the name la muela stands for corruption on a staggering scale. local councillor jaime ameller tells us about the sensational lawsuit brought against la muela's former mayor. maria pinilla stands accused of ining her pockets with 18 million euros during her time in office through bribes, money laundering and illegal construction deals. she faces 35 years in prison. >> the extent of the corruption is horrific. almost 100 million euros worth of damage has been done in a village with 5,000 inhabitants. the ramifications of that are huge. reporter: la muela is stone broke. despite that, it's home to plenty of showy buildings, like this fancy wind museum. unfortunately, it's always closed.
we move on to the museum of life -- also closed. as is the museum of oil. and then there's the auditorium, designed by a japanese architect. >> the whole thing is one person's madness. the mayor must have woken up one morning and said to herself, let's build something japanese. that's how it always was. reporter: next to the auditorium is the covered bull fighting arena. the honourable local dignitaries -- including developers, architects and politicians -- made a killing on projects like these. 36 people have now been indicted. villagers didn't escape the frenzy either. a television report shows how the mayor splashed out on expensive long-haul holidays for
some of them. with the municipality generously paying for half of the costs. >> as long as things were running smoothly, everyone was on board. it only changed when things got out of hand. reporter: now the village has a new, young mayor from a left-leaning regional party. adrian tello doesn't earn a salary -- la muela is too busy paying off some 16 million euros worth of debt. >> unfortunately, there was zero proper oversight in the village. that was the first thing that got us into the situation we're in now. then there was simply a majority of people who liked all the benefits. reporter: the village is now concentrating its efforts on managing the damage. this public swimming pool has been closed -- there's no money for the upkeep. in the village bar, most people would just like la muela to stay out of the headlines.
the chances of that happening are quite good -- it seems every other day in spain, there's a new scandal. >> for us, the panama papers are not unusual. we've been dealing with things like that for years. reporter: this is what ruin looks like in the spanish hinterlands. the village is not unique -- la muela is everywhere. michelle: germany and turkey have long shared a special relationship, dating as far back as the ottoman empire. ties between the two countries were strengthened when germany -- suffering from a labor shortage during the so called economic miracle after world war ii -- invited inturkish guest workers. their arrival in the 1950's and
1960's is why turks form the largest ethnic minority in germany. but a crude satirical poem by a german comedian about the turkish president has now sparked a diplomatic crisis between the two countries. the joke was intended to draw attention to the problem of press freedom in turkey, where many journalists face court proceedings for insulting president erdogan. for the german government the row is an embarrasment especially when europe needs turkey in the refugee crisis. some germans are critizing the government for their role and signed a petition to uphold press freedom here in germany. reporter: the defence of germany's freedom of speech began in this modest attic room in the bavarian alps. sitting at her computer, christine doering started an online petition in support of the comedian jan böhmermann. böhmermann is scheduled to appear in court for allegedly insulting the turkish president in a poem. doering feels the accusation is absurd, and has collected over 240,000 signatures for her petition.
>> it is important to me that someone takes a stand against turkey. we have freedom of speech and freedom of the press and art. and you can't restrict that, just because you don't like something. >> what i'm about to do isn't allowed. it wouldn't be allowed to publicly broadcast this in germany. reporter: böhmermann performed a deliberately provocative poem about turkish president erdogan using profane language and abusive criticism. that got him into trouble. the turkish government responded by demanding that the german government launch a criminal prosection against the comedian for abusive criiticism of a foreign leader. meanwhile, in the offices of the opposition newspaper cumhuriyet, editor-in-chief can dündar has just been told that his book about the persection of journalists in turkey is to be published in germany. however, dündar will not be embarking on any promotional tours -- he is not permitted to leave the country. dündar will appear in court himself, charged with treason.
although he considers böhmermann's comments to be in poor taste, he warns germany against giving in to pressure from the turkish government. >> of course you could make a civil case out of this. but erdogan is a politician who cannot tolerate any critique. even if it is carefully formulated, he will take you to court. which is why his reaction to this case is seen so adversely. it is not an isolated case, it is the overall state of freedom of speech in turkey. that is why so few people are willing to side with erdogan in the case of böhmerman. reporter: idil baydar is also against erdogan's prosecution of böhmermann. baydar is a german-turkish stand-up comedian and is well known to german audiences. her current show draws heavily upon stereotypes of germans and turks. she has been very successful with her show in many german cities.
>> germans find it really very funny when i say, we are even now, you can't have enough children, we can't speak german properly. reporter: in baydar's show turks are all violent and germans are all uptight. it plays on fears about integration, which is a hot button issue in germany. >> queuing? we don't get that. we just form crowds. reporter: it's a form of humour that baydar's audience appreciates. baydar has defended böhmermann's poem about the turkish president. for baydar, böhmermann is not only satirising erdogan, he has also highlighted the latent racism that foreigners living in germany, or their children, have to face. >> the poem has finally spoken
out what we turks in germany have been forced to listen to for the last 50 years. the insulting word he used to describe erdogan was not invented by turks. for the first time it has clearly shown the narrative that we turks in germany have to live under. reporter: baydar's biting satire is extremely popular among germany's younger population with a migrant background. but they are divided over the jan böhmermann case. >> everyone has an opinion and should be free to express it. in my opinion there's been too much fuss over it. >> we like to tell jokes as well and to have fun, but that was below the belt. that shouldn't have happened. reporter: christine doering is surprised by how much attention her petition has received. opinion polls also indicate that most germans have a high tolerance level when it comes to satire. it seems there is growing unease in germany with the verbal attacks against the country's press in recent years. several rightwing populists have even used a term the nazis once used, "the lying press".
>> this petition is a great way to show these people that we will not put up with this. we are going to do something about it. this is not just about turkey. reporter: the row over jan böhmermann's poem is no longer about the limits of satire. it is about turkey's future relations with europe. michelle: should a comedian be charged for making a joke, however crude it might be? let us know what you think about that or any of today's stories by getting in touch on facebook, email or twitter. out of the countries in the european single currency, it is greece that continues to suffer the worst effects of the financial crisis. while it received hundreds of billions of euros in aid, that money effectively went to bail out the country's banks. the severe austerity measures put in place to help pay off that debt are still crippling the country. many people don't have money to pay for day to day necessities
that many of us take for granted, from medical prescriptions to food. in aigio, a small town in the north of the country, one man is determined to do something about that. he is a german national who founded a charity to provide mini-bailouts directly to ordinary people and felt so close to his new cause he even adopted a greek name. reporter: when this man rolls into town, people in aigon near patras know that help is on the way. alexandros yazakis is neither politician, diplomat nor economic expert. his help really reaches those who need it. and the need is great. which is why the 73-year-old is always on the go. today he's meeting new applicants for his aid program. >> this is the tax return that everyone has to submit to prove they have no income, or virtually no income. reporter: alexandros has been here for decades.
out of devotion to his adopted homeland, he gave up both his german passport and name. a year ago, he set up his ngo, solidarity farm. whoever helps can harvest the vegetables growing on the 4,000 square meter field. seeds instead of social welfare. the people here lack basic needs, including food. maria's has a six-year-old daughter, her husband has cancer and is in the hospital. >> at the moment all i have to live on is what i harvest here. i am grateful for the aid and the help from germany. reporter: helpers also get 50 euros a month from a german association founded by alexandros and friends. it's name translates as "aid for greece that gets where it's needed". the founders are regularly on site to ensure their organization lives up to its name. >> the administration costs are
zero. we paid for our own flights. it's not like we're claiming any kind of travel expenses. reporter: in the beginning it was just a small, private initiative. but after coverage in the german media, donations poured in, raising funds in the group's account from 1300 to 40,000. the friends founded a registered association. it has since come to support a hundred families. with the cash they bring from germany, the friends provide first aid in greece. they say they help people, unlike the eu, which has spent millions saving banks. alexandros also helps the old and the sick, who cannot work on the farm. giorgios kalaizakis, for example, and his mother aphroditi. the two live on her 340 euro pension. with the money from germany, giorgios can at least afford his heart medication.
aphrodite is 86. she lived through the war, but never before were times as hard as now, she says. >> don't cry. i'm here now. reporter: to make matters worse, aprodite's landlord died last year. his family forced mother and son out of their home. in such cases, the association can donate goods, but they're powerless to give the homeless a roof over their heads. brussels' austerity demands have led to a four-fold increase in unemployment in greece. large portions of the population have slid into poverty. before the crisis, maria worked as a nurse. today, she has no chance of finding employment. she can't pay taxes or utility bills.
and she fears she could lose her home under new foreclosure laws. >> often i crouch secretly in a corner and cry. but i know i'm the one who has to be strong, i have to keep both feet on the ground. reporter: what gives her the strength? >> my child. reporter: alexandros can't solve political problems. but he's become an expert in providing humanitarian aid. his latest coup is a give-away shop. what started with little money and lots of dedication has become something like a social welfare office in aigion. >> the work we do, the help we provide for families, for the poor, it gives me strength. we're moving mountains here -- it's amazing what we've achieved in two and a half years.
reporter: the assoication has become an institution in aigion. even the mayor expresses his gratitude. alexandros and his friends have shown that it is easy to lend a helping hand - you just have to do it. michelle: our next report takes us to switzerland. there we meet alois kohlert, an organic farmer whose commitment to grow his crops in harmony with nature, without the use of pesticides, fertilizers or gmos has made him very creative when dealing with problems. and for a time it worked, until he encountered a very particular pest -- crows. feeling desperate after helplessly watching his crops being devoured, he felt that he had no choice but to implement a very un-organic solution. he called in a crow hunter. reporter: it's been a desperate struggle.
alois kohlert had nearly lost all hope. for years, dozens of crows have called his organic farm home, leaving him no choice but to sit back and watch as they destroyed his salad crops. nets, noisemakers, balloons, nothing really helped. last year alone the loss of revenue amounted to 45,000 euros. >> last year, 2015, was really critical. i felt quite helpless. when you've had to write off an entire harvest, you just don't know what do to anymore. reporter: kohlert is fed up. he's asked local authorities for permission to shoot the crows . after all, his is not the only farm being plagued by the birds. daniel gerber is known as the best crow hunter in switzerland and has been tasked with the cull.
his mobile plastic dummies attract the real birds like magnets at dawn. it's astonishing that this simple method manages to trick notoriously cunning crows. as soon as they approach, they're fate is sealed. gerber shows no mercy. and he's satisfied with the result. >> we got 34 crows this morning, and under the conditions that's a good yield. reporter: animal rights activist kathrin hochuli believes the cull is entirely useless. she says it won't control the crow population. >> crows belong to the most intelligent bird species. they're often portrayed as black, evil birds, but actually they have many abilities and are very intelligent. possibly too intelligent for the liking of some humans. reporter: but to date crows have been mulitiplying in this region, even if daniel gerber's
services are more in demand than ever. unfortunately, crow meat does not make for a delicious dish. will he be having crow soup tonight? >> definitely not! no, no, i eat convetional foods. i certainly won't be serving up crow soup! reporter: local authorities will take stock at the end of the year. if crop damages have declined, the crows will be spared next year. but at the moment, it doesn't look they will be that lucky. michelle: that's it for today. thank you for watching. in the meantime, it's goodbye from me and whole team. see you next time. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org]
steves: since the romantic era in the 19th century, luzern has been a regular stop on the grand tour route of europe. [ whistle blows ] its inviting lakefront now includes a modern concert hall, which incorporates the lake into its design. the old town, with a pair of picture-perfect wooden bridges, straddles the reuss river, where it tumbles out of lake luzern. the bridge was built at an angle in the 14th century
to connect the town's medieval fortifications. today, it serves strollers, rather than soldiers, as a peaceful way to connect two sides of town. many are oblivious to the fascinating art just overhead. under the rafters hang about 100 colorful 17th-century paintings showing scenes from luzern and its history. this legendary giant dates to the middle ages, when locals discovered mammoth bones, which they mistakenly thought were the bones of a human giant. here's luzern in about 1400, the bridge already part of the city fortifications. and luzern looked like this in 1630. luzern is responsible for controlling the lake level. by regulating the flow of water out of its lake, the city prevents the flooding of lakeside villages when the snow melts. in the mid-19th century, the city devised and built this extendable dam.
by adding and taking away these wooden slats, they could control the level of the lake. slocals say they arrived in the 17th century as a gift from the french king, louis xiv, in appreciation for the protection his swiss guards gave him. switzerland has a long history of providing strong and loyal warriors to foreign powers. the city's famous lion monument recalls the heroism of more swiss mercenaries. the mighty lion rests his paws on a french shield. tears stream down his cheeks. the broken-off end of a spear is slowly killing the noble beast. the sad lion is a memorial to over 700 swiss mercenaries who were killed, defending marie antoinette and louis xvi during the french revolution. the people of luzern take full advantage of their delightful river with a variety of cafes and restaurants along its banks. this evening, we're enjoying the setting as much as the food.