tv Focus on Europe PBS March 31, 2018 6:00pm-6:31pm PDT
♪ peter: hello and a very warm welcome indeed to "focus on europe" with me, peter craven. and we go first to one of the eu's smaller countries, slovakia, where the government is on the brink of collapse amid a crisis triggered by the killing of a young journalist. there have been huge demonstrations to protest the murder of 27-year-old jan kuciak and his girlfriend. the rallies are reported to be the biggest in the country since the velvet revolution back in 1989. at the time of his killing, kuciak had been investigating the corruption that is rife in slovakia and specifically links between leading politicians and an italian mafia group. the murder has left other journalists, like zuzana petkova, a friend and colleague of jan kuciak, living in fear as
they continue to probe the corruption that appears to go right to the top. >> this luxury apartment complex in bratislava is the product of a massive fraud. zuzana petkova is one of the journalists who exposed it. this also happens to be the address of prime minister robert fico who has since resigned. petkova discovered that his government had helped the building contractor dodge millions of euros in taxes and penalties. >> they simply changed the laws so quickly that the building contractor could pay up the vat tax without any penalties, which is just what he did. this is only one of many cases that reveal corruption at the highest levels. it's so widespread that the country has gotten used to it.
>> petkova keeps glancing around nervously. the journalist researched this and other scandals together with her co-worker jan kuciak. he was shot dead in mid-february by persons still unknown. even so, the reporter isn't afraid to talk to a neighbor at the complex. >> what was the situation with the building permit? >> they applied for it after the fact, and it was approved. that's just not right. but this isn't only a problem with the current government. when things like this happen, there's a short period of outrage, and then everything's back to business as usual. >> since the murder of jan kuciak's, seen here at a journalism seminar in 2017, things have started changing in slovakia. on march 9, tens of thousands of people demonstrated against the government and the rampant corruption in the country.
zuzana petkova also took the stage to demand a swift investigation of the murder of her friend and colleague and his fiancee. these demonstrators seem convinced that the connections between political circles and organized crime that kuciak helped expose are indeed real. >> i took to the streets against the communists in 1989. now, we need another fundamental change to bring the truth to light. >> the most important thing is that the people of this country feel secure again. i, for one, don't have that feeling of security. robert fico also did his part to spread fear. at a press conference, he called the journalists dirty prostitutes. it came as no surprise to zuzana petkova. she worries that the politicians' rhetoric could encourage someone to attack reporters once again.
>> after jan's murder, we took safety precautions for our editorial staff. now, the research team only uses encrypted communication channels. we never send anything by e-mail any more. instead, we meet in safe places and keep each other up to date that way. >> just a few weeks earlier, petkova's car had mysteriously caught fire while she was driving. she pulled over, thinking at first it was a mechanical problem. but then she met with an informer in a shopping mall. >> suddenly, the parking garage called and told him his car was on fire. we ran down there, and i saw his car was burning the same way mine had. after that, the informer never contacted me again. at the time, i didn't think much of it and didn't go to the police. but now i think it was meant as a warning to me.
>> petkova is determined to press on. she feels she owes it to her friend and colleague jan kuciak and his fiancee. the protests and commemoration of the two murder victims all across slovakia give her courage. >> after these murders, i'm hoping things will finally change. the state has been stolen from us slovaks. the institutions are corrupt and dysfunctional. that's what led to these tragedies, where we'd thought such things were no longer even possible in 2018. >> but they happened in a european union member state, zuzana petkova points out. the murder of journalist jan kuciak is not just of concern to slovaks, but to all of europe.
peter: well, a fact-finding delegation from the european union parliament has visited bratislava. one recommendation is that the eu's crime-fighting agency europol should join the investigation into the killing of jan kuciak and his partner. ♪ peter: now, what kind of country has russia become under vladimir putin? as voters go the polls in a presidential election, they do so in a russia of stark contrasts between the rich and poor, the influential and the neglected, and between the capital and the provinces. women with very different lifestyles.
a suburb of the city of yekaterinburg. >> on the outskirts of the central russian city of yekaterinburg, a house is in a state of extreme disrepair. the roof is in danger of collapsing on its inhabitants. >> the bathroom in the apartment above us is falling apart. don't touch anything, it could come down on our heads. >> daria daar shows us what happens when the state turns a blind eye to poor housing conditions. >> just look at this roof. >> there's mold everywhere. the building belonged to a state-owned company that went out of business. no one has taken responsibility for the place. >> we're doing all the repairs ourselves, no matter what falls apart. even if the plumbing bursts, we'll pool our money and look the authorities aren't lifting a finger.
>> nearly 2,000 kilometers away, the contrast couldn't be greater. for the last few years, the russian capital has been a showcase for billions of euros' worth of investment in renovation. anyone with a well-paying job in moscow can enjoy a life of luxury. maria katasonova, who works in the russian parliament, says she owes her success to president vladimir putin's policies. >> i'm grateful to the president that i have a job and that my parents are employed. i'm proud of my country and its history. and that's why i thank president putin for helping russia reclaim a leading role on the world stage. >> back in yekaterinburg, daria daar and her neighbors have a very different take on russia's leadership. they have since found out that their building was constructed illegally and has never been renovated.
>> now, we're really afraid. >> when i fall asleep, i think to myself, hopefully i'll wake up on this floor and not in the neighbor's apartment below. >> i will not vote for putin. he's just playing to his own people. we are getting poorer all the time. life is getting worse. >> they make all their decisions without us. we've lost hope. >> but people like maria katasonova in moscow hope things will stay the same. business as usual suits her just fine. >> i hope that over the next six years, the president will accomplish everything he set out to do. maybe he'll work harder. the main thing is that he builds on the principles he laid out at the beginning. >> katasonova is among the many winners in putin's system. anyone who has the means lives in a kind of comfort bubble, and they don't hesistate to show off their lavish lifestyles on
social media. the number of russian multimillionaires has risen sharply in the past year. and the gum department store at red square is the epicenter of their consumerism. its proud display of opulence is the symbol of everything provincial life is not. away from the glittering facades, on the other side of russia, there's not much interest in the vote. citizens don't trust in the state to do anything on their behalf. >> the authorities send us back and forth. i've tried to get an appointment with the mayor or the governor, but no luck. we see them with mothers, grandmothers, and children on tv all the time. but we can't get a minute with them.
>> in this country full of contradictions, the only thing that seems to count in this election is the promise of stability and the fear that russia could turn backward on itself. meanwhile, the gap between rich and poor is growing steadily wider. peter: now, here is a question. does russia's orthodox church serve god alone? or perhaps also the interests of vladimir putin? certainly, the two sides appear to be moving ever closer together and adopting similar positions on things like family values, human rights, and even foreign policy. and the relationship brings substantial benefits for the church, such as, it seems, the transfer of the famous st. isaac's cathedral in st. petersburg back into the hands of the church. but as our reporter shows, there is resistance. >> st. isaac's cathedral is famous, but it's also
controversial. officially, it isn't a church. it's a state-run museum. but that could change soon. st. petersburg's local administration plans to transfer control of the building to the russian orthodox church, a decision that has made many people angry. sabina pechatkina and irina sheinman have been protesting against the measure for over a year. they're preparing to take to the streets of their home town again. irina's poster reads "the constitution separates church and state." the two women feel the orthodox church has stopped respecting that. >> this is part of a larger phenomenon in russian society. the church is interfering more and more in everything, in the army, in schools, in the government, in local parliament, in everything. even though officially there is a separation of church and state here. >> st. isaac's cathedral is the final stronghold in the battle for our state. the constitution says we live in a secular country. and that's what i want.
>> blue has become the color of this movement to protect st. petersburg's skyline. armed with balloons, the protesters are fighting for their city despite the freezing temperatures. their balloons read "the cathedral must remain a museum." ahead of the upcoming elections, irina and the other protesters want to show the government that the church's influence in russia has gone too far. the russian president, on the other hand, makes a point of showing his close proximity to the orthodox church. it's seen as a pillar of vladimir putin's russia. but the increasing influence of the church is divisive here. >> it all started with pussy riot a few years ago. the punk band's protest against the lack of separation between church and state got the women sentenced to two years in a prison colony. and insulting the feelings of
believers became a criminal offense in russia. >> the allegation is becoming increasingly common. a production of wagner's opera tannhauser in novosibirsk was labelled blasphemous and banned. the portrayal of an affair between tsar nicholas ii, who was canonized by the russian orthodox church, and a ballerina in the film "mathilda" also caused a scandal. the church itself sees its influence as historically justified. after all, during the soviet union, religion was suppressed, churches were destroyed or repurposed, and priests were killed. >> in today's russia, orthodox christianity has become an important part of the national identity. and that actually returns russia to its normal state. we see getting church property back as a restoration of historical justice.
>> the protesters outside st. isaac's cathedral disagree, they say this building belonged to the state and not the church even before the russian revolution. surveys show that most st. petersburgers want the building to remain a museum. >> we want our protest to emphasize that our government is secular, that no single religion is privileged in this country, and that a state museum belongs to everyone here, no matter what religion they are. >> the local government has so far refused to hold a referendum on the issue, perhaps because it could provoke too much of a conflict ahead of this summer's elections. so for now, the fate of st. petersburg's most important cathedral remains up in the air, at least until after polling day. peter: now a story from the italian-french border of people
who are willing to risk hefty prison sentences and possibly more in order to save the lives of others. i'm talking about volunteer rescuers who do what they can to help refugees trying to make their way from italy into france across the mountainous border. it's a battle against snow and ice and often against the clock. >> a call for help from some refugees is coming in. >> there are four of them. they're just crossing the border. we need to hurry, or we'll miss them. >> alpine rescue worker philippe zanetti helps rufugees at the french-italian border together with two neighbors. >> the refugees will be caught by the border police. >> refugees often hide near the mountain pass at montgenevre. the helpers are bringing them warm clothing so they
don't freeze to death. >> usually, they come from over there. oh no, a border police snowmobile. >> these volunteer rescuers risk up to five years in prison and fines of up to 30,000 euros. >> it's a risk we're willing to take. these people's lives are more important. >> more and more refugees are taking trains from the south of italy to the country's north. from there, they set out at night, heading for the border. about 15 migrants have arrived at the station in bardonecchia. for those who have already survived the horrors of the libyan refugee camps and the mediterranean crossing the , dangerous alpine crossing is not a deterrent. >> we'll continue on foot.
>> which way are you going? >> that way. toward france. we've had enough of italy. we can't get papers. >> it's 32 kilometers to the mountain pass. at 1,800 meters elevation, there's a border patrol outpost, where police have infrared cameras. the helpers find four refugees, who've already crossed into france. as usual, other volunteer helpers are checking to see if the police are in the vicinity. they tell philippe zanetti the coast is clear. the volunteers will bring the freezing refugees to briancon, a town 20 kilometers from the border. after two or three days, they'll continue onward to somewhere else in france or to northern europe. the volunteer helpers know that if they're caught with refugees in their car, they could face a prison sentence. but for them, helping people takes precedence. none of the volunteers have been arrested yet, although some have
been interrogated at the police station. so are the volunteers actually participating in human trafficking? >> no, of course not. we don't take money, which is what traffickers do. we're providing emergency assistance, so that people don't freeze to death. >> about 200 residents of briancon, including some doctors, are taking part in the effort. the mayor has made this community center available as a refuge. he also pays for food. meanwhile, 2000 undocumented migrants have passed through here. >> if they show up at our doorstep, it's an ethical imperative for us to take them in, to give them a place to regain their strength. afterward, there will indeed be problems related to their legal status. but that's not the first issue at hand. >> another community-owned house is sheltering mamadou, a migrant
from mali. filmmaker marianne chaud is helping him. two years ago, mamadou's plight sparked a wave of solidarity. at just 26, mamadou lost both feet. his friend, who was then 24, lost both hands. it happened when they tried to cross the nearby col de l'echelle pass, which was closed. >> we were wearing sneakers. it was night when we arrived at the mountain. we couldn't even see the road. the snow went up to our armpits. then we realized the tunnel was closed. so we he had to climb down the snow-covered mountainside to make the crossing. it took all night. >> mamadou had to leave his friend behind. he went to get help and barely made it to the hospital. >> the doctor came and said, "we have to amputate your feet." i could hardly bear it.
>> afterwards, people started this rescue initative, which operates around the clock. so that no one else gets lost. we don't want mamadou's story to repeat itself. >> all the volunteers feel helping is not a choice. it's an obligation. they will continue to risk arrest until france finds a way to ensure the safety of these refugees. peter: it's shocking to hear that mountain guides in the italian alps have issued warnings that the bodies of migrants might be uncovered when the snow melts this spring. now, on a very different note, everybody has a story to tell. but not always somebody to listen. one man, though, is determined to do what he can to put that right. 71-year-old christoph bush, a scriptwriter by trade, has rented a former kiosk in an underground station in germany's port city of hamburg and set himself up as somebody who will lend his ear to pretty much anybody.
>> we're at the emilienstrasse subway station in hamburg. the platform has what looks like a regular kiosk, but this one doesn't sell the usual newspapers and chocolates. the man who staffs it offers an entirely different service. >> good morning. >> what can i buy here? >> you can't buy anything here, all you can do is be heard. if you want to tell me a story, i'm all ears. even if it's just a few sentences. >> the promise to listen arouses curiosity. people are drawn to the unusual kiosk at the station. >> i'd be happy if you came by. there's a number you can call, too. >> so you're writing a book? >> it might turn into a book, but first of all, i just listen to the things people tell me. i bet you've go stories to tell. -- i bet you've got stories to
tell. >> the 71-year-old is a script writer for television. he rented this space as a writing studio. >> i imagined that i would sit here and write and occasionally someone would approach me and i would talk to them, but actually , i don't get to do any writing anymore. i just listen. >> most people who speak to christoph busch don't want to be on camera. some tell him episodes from their childhood or the entire story of their lives. they're happy to find someone willing to just listen. >> people don't normally spend a lot of time in a subway station , which means that when someone does come they're prepared to spend a bit of time. hello, yes, you're on the list. >> this woman made an appointment by phone.
she wants to talk about her marriage to a man from senegal. christoph busch considers whether this could make an interesting story. >> at that point i migrated to senegal with my husband but we weren't really agreed on it. i said, let's do this. i have so many ideas, this is a poor country, they need good ideas here. but it didn't work, only nine months. >> then you came back? >> we came back, but it was a great experience. >> i'm always on the lookout for people i wouldn't normally get to meet, who wouldn't come to my house for a party, for example. or people who instill a sense of respect in me, where i'm a bit taken aback by what they say. but that's exciting. >> he's wary of being treated as a stand-in therapist or pastor. nevertheless, he hears more sad stories than happy ones. >> i tell myself sorrow is the flip side of happiness, and if
you are never unhappy then you don't know what happiness is. most people who come here want to escape their sorrow. this is like a first step in that direction. >> some of these stories affect christoph busch very deeply. but he gladly accepts what people have entrusted to him. peter: well, thanks so much for listening to and watching "fokus on europe." if you'd like to see any of today's reports again, just go to our home page at dw.com or visit us on facebook, dw stories. until next time, it's bye-bye and tschuss. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org]
with a whopping population of 6,000. today, even with its crowds and overpriced souvenirs, i love this place. during rothenburg's heyday -- that was about 1200 to 1400 -- it was the intersection of two great trading routes -- prague to paris and hamburg to venice. but today, the great trade is tourism. rothenburg is a huge hit with shoppers. true, this is a great place to buy cuckoo clocks, steins, and dirndls, but see the town first. most of the buildings were built by 1400. like many medieval towns, the finest and biggest houses were built along herrengasse, named for the herren, or the wealthy class. the commoners built higgledy-piggledy farther from the center, near the walls. hanging shop signs advertise what they sold -- knives, armor, bread, whatever. rothenburg's wall,
with its beefy fortifications and intimidating gates, is about a mile around and provides great views and a good orientation. rodertor is the only tower you can actually climb. it's worth the hike for the commanding city view and the fascinating display on the bombing of rothenburg in the last weeks of world war ii, when much of the city was destroyed. but rothenburg's most devastating days were 400 years ago, during the thirty years' war. in the 1600s, the catholic and protestant armies were fighting all across europe. the catholic army took the protestant town of rothenburg, and as was customary, they planned to execute the town leaders and pillage and plunder the place. but the catholic general had an idea. he said, "hey, if someone in this town can drink "a three-liter tankard filled with wine in one gulp, i'll spare the city." according to legend, rothenburg's retired mayor nusch said, "i can do that." mayor nusch drank the whole thing, the town was saved, and the mayor slept for three days.
and today, tourists gather on the town square several times daily for a less-than-thrilling reenactment of that legendary chug. nice story, but in actuality, the town was occupied and ransacked several times during that 30 years of war, and when peace finally came, rothenburg was never again a major player. it slumbered peacefully until rediscovered in the 19th century by those same romantics who put the rhine on the grand tour map. they came here to paint and write about the best-preserved medieval town in germany. shops are filled with etchings and prints inspired by this 19th century romantic take on the town.