TIME Greece

Greek Vote Forces Europe to Make a Difficult Decision

Europe's choice is essentially to give way to Greece or see it leave the Eurozone

Europe’s leaders are faced with a tough choice after Greek voters rejected austerity conditions attached to a new bailout in a referendum on Sunday: fundamentally alter their policies for dragging Europe back to prosperity, or lose a member of a currency union that was meant to represent the political and economic strength of the whole continent.

On Tuesday, leaders of the 19 countries that use the euro will meet in Brussels to grapple with the implications of the referendum result, which saw more than 60% of the Greek electorate vote No to a package of spending cuts and new taxes in return for more loans.

Beyond the economic contagion of a potential Greek exit from the Eurozone, there are lasting political ramifications for all 28 European Union members, regardless of which path they choose.

For an alliance constantly fighting accusations that it is stacked with unelected officials foisting ruinous policies on struggling members, ignoring the will of the Greek people and soldiering on with its tough austerity policies would deal another blow to its democratic credentials. A Greek exit from the single currency would also shatter the dreams of many European leaders who see the euro as the ultimate symbol of the bloc’s political union.

But returning to the negotiating table with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tspiras and forging a new bailout deal with less stringent conditions could embolden other far-left parities across the E.U. It would also spark a backlash both in richer creditor nations like Germany, and other bailout countries such as Ireland and Portugal that had to endure the pain of reform programs.

Much depends on whose pre-vote bluster wins out. Ahead of the referendum, Tspiras said a No vote would give him a stronger hand in negotiations and he could return to Brussels with a mandate to prioritize social justice and get a better deal for a nation that has endured the highest unemployment rates in the E.U. and a plummeting quality of life.

Eurozone leaders, however, threatened that rejecting the terms on the table after six months of negotiations was a vote for leaving the single currency, and right now the hawks are remaining adamant that Greece has blown its last chance of being part of the euro club.

The German economy minister, Sigmar Gabriel, said that the vote meant Tsipras had “torn down the last bridges across which Europe and Greece could move toward a compromise”. He told the German newspaper, Tagesspiegel, that the vote was essentially a rejection of the Eurozone’s rules.

Slovakia’s Finance Minister, Peter Kažimír, tweeted that he was “disappointed” by the vote and now “the nightmare… that a country could leave the club seems like a realistic scenario”.

That path would begin with the European Central Bank (ECB) cutting off the emergency funding that has kept Greece afloat even after it defaulted on existing loans. Athens would have to start printing its own currency, meaning a de facto exit from the Eurozone. Exactly how the other Eurozone nations would mange this and contain any economic fallout is uncharted territory.

The “Grexit” option would also likely lead to a prolonged depression in Greece and a potential humanitarian disaster. That prospects has some voices around Europe arguing for a return to the negotiating table. Gianni Pittella, the leaders of the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, called for the resumption of talks “inspired by a new attitude of solidarity and cooperation, taking into account the difficult social dimension in Greece”.

The Italian foreign minister, Paolo Gentiloni, also came out in favor of more negotiations, tweeting that “Now it is right to start trying for an agreement again”.

But there is so much bad blood now between the Greek government and its creditors in the Eurozone, the ECB and the International Monetary Fund that a calm and collected round of negotiations seems unthinkable. Talks have been increasingly combative since Tspiras’ far-left Syriza party was elected in January, and his finance minister has accused the creditors of “terrorism”.

The first hurdle is staying afloat for the next few days, and the ECB must now decide whether to continue the emergency funding for Greece while the Eurozone leaders meet.

Whatever happens in the next few days, Raoul Ruparel of the Open Europe think tank said the referendum would bring “profound change”. Either the Eurozone will “capitulate to Greece… changing its entire modus operandi” or Greece will have to leave the Eurozone.

“In which case the E.U. and the Eurozone will be fundamentally changed,” he wrote on his blog. “The E.U. will have to reconsider its ‘ever closer union’ mantra and accept that its flawed approach and inflexible institutions have helped precipitate the downfall of one of its guiding principles.”

TIME Italy

Migrants Risk Death to Escape War and Get to Europe

Migrants protect themselves from the rain as they wait to disembark from a ship on Feb. 17, 2015 in Porto Empedocle, south Sicily, following a rescue operation of migrants as part of the International Frontex plan.
Marcello Paternos—AFP/Getty Images Migrants protect themselves from the rain as they wait to disembark from a ship on Feb. 17, 2015 in Porto Empedocle, south Sicily, following a rescue operation of migrants as part of the International Frontex plan.

Driven out of his home by poison gas, Mohammed will take any risk to start a new life

When sea water started seeping onto the deck of an old fishing boat as it listed under the weight of hundreds of people in the middle of the Mediterranean, Mohammed decided not to tell the other passengers. He knew that panic could be as lethal as a holed hull or heavy winter seas.

The migrants set sail from Libya in darkness hours earlier. Mohammed, 33, a Syrian salesman who was made homeless by a chemical weapons attack, says he tried not to think about the danger of drowning as smugglers crammed him and hundreds of others onto a large boat in the early hours of Feb.18.

He was following an itinerary shared by hundreds of thousands. Since 2013, civil wars and oppressive regimes in the Middle East and Africa have forced ever-increasing numbers of people on the dangerous journey to Europe. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), arrivals so far this year are up 45% on 2014 and more than 330 migrants have died, compared to 36 in January and February last year.

After a few miles at sea, they were forced onto smaller vessels. Mohammed, who did not want his surname published as his family are still in Damascus, found himself at the front of the 11-metre long vessel as it motored towards Italy. “The sea was cold and I was worried about the condition of the boat,” he says. His photographs from the voyage show people covering every inch of the boat. They huddle in thick jackets and hats and some stand to create more room. Mohammed estimates that there were around 400 people on the boat, including 12 women and 20 children. “The children seemed afraid,” says Mohammed. “The boat was tilting. We were sitting at the front and at a certain point water started to come in the boat, but we didn’t tell anyone because we didn’t want to scare everyone.”

Mohammed had already traveled through five countries and been arrested, assaulted and forced to beg on the streets. With his pregnant wife and 20-month-old daughter still living in Syria and waiting for him to get them to Europe, he was determined not to be beaten by the sea when he was so close to his goal.

There are no legal ways for people fleeing Syria’s civil war or other situations in Somalia, Palestine, Mali or Eritrea to apply for asylum and resettlement in the European Union (E.U.). Instead they have to find a way to plant a foot on European soil and then request refugee status in that nation.

Most European governments seem determined to keep migrants out as they face political pressure from anti-immigration parties. New external border fences are going up and existing barriers reinforced but the desperation to escape remains strong. There are 3.7 million Syrian refugees living in camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, and the total number of refugees worldwide has exceeded 50 million for the first time since the Second World War. In 2013, 60,0000 people tried to reach Europe over the Mediterranean, with 600 dying, UN High Commission for Refugees figures show. Last year, that figure surged to 218,000 attempting the journey, with more than 3,500 deaths.

Libya has always been an attractive departure point for economic migrants from Africa and the Middle East. When Muammar Gaddafi was in power, the E.U. paid him to stop migrants setting sail to Europe but since his death, the flow of migrants has increased.

Political division and civil war have created a vacuum where smuggling gangs operate unimpeded and often in cohorts with militias. There are huge sums to be made, with each migrant paying up to $1,500 for the sea crossing. But the danger in Libya has also increased, so rather than wait for calmer seas, this year migrants are willing to risk hypothermia or drowning to escape the chaos, says Flavio Di Giacomo, a spokesman for the IOM. “Many migrants told us that, even if they knew that the journey is dangerous and that they could die in the desert or at sea, they did not expect all this violence in Libya,” he says.

Mohammed’s journey began on Aug. 21, 2013, when Ghouta, a Damascus suburb where he lived, was hit with rockets carrying the nerve agent sarin. At least 350 people were killed, but Mohammed and his wife were in central Damascus that day. They could not return to their contaminated home and stayed in the capital to continue with their life, but found it difficult. “Many times when I was traveling for work I found myself in the middle of the fighting, and I had to hide underneath the van,” Mohammed says.

He was struggling to make enough money to provide for his family, and when he heard that he was due to be conscripted, he decided to escape to Europe. At the beginning of November last year, he said goodbye to his wife and daughter and boarded a plane to Algeria.

Mohammed, his 14-year old nephew and three other men planned to travel overland through Algeria and Tunisia and into Libya, where they planned to make the boat trip to Italy. But the Tunisian police caught them and forced them to return to Turkey, where Mohammed had to re-plan the entire journey.

For two months he stayed with friends in Istanbul, making contacts with smugglers and trying to raise more funds. Eventually a smuggling gang agreed to get them Libyan visas under the premise that they were businessmen flying to Libya for work. On Jan. 15, they boarded a plane to Tripoli — only to find more hardship awaiting them. “The airport we flew into was controlled by rebel forces,” says Mohammed. “They took everything from us and locked us away for a week.”

As Mohammed had only agreed to pay the smugglers in Turkey their $2,500 fee once they were safely en route to Europe, they intervened — although Mohammed wonders if it was all a set up from the start. “It seemed like [the smugglers] had an agreement with the rebels because in the end they said each of us had to give them $300 and we’ll let you go,” he says.

They were freed but the rebels kept their belongings and for 10 days the men were forced to beg on the streets. Eventually their personal items were returned, and the smugglers took them on the final overland leg of the journey to the coastal town of Zuara. “We were beaten during the trip to the boats,” Mohammed says. “They punched me in the face and beat me on my feet.”

On the boat, Mohammed worried that they were not heading in the right direction. “When we got into this little boat we didn’t know where we were going — we were almost freezing and without hope,” he says.

Water was pooling at his feet and there was nothing he could do but stay still. He didn’t want to cause a panic. In one of the worst migrant boat disasters, a vessel carrying 515 sank within sight of the Italian island of Lampedusa in October 2013. A fire on board caused a panic, and as people rushed to the sides to fling themselves into the sea, the vessel capsized. At least 300 people were killed.

It was around midday when the passengers spotted an oil rig. An hour later an Italian navy ship arrived and rescued the migrants.

A week earlier, around 300 migrants had not been so lucky. Armed smugglers on the Libyan coast had forced hundreds of people into four inflatable dinghies, despite unusually rough seas. Only one dinghy made it to Italy with a handful of survivors on board. The rest were lost. The incident happened days after 29 migrants died of hypothermia while they were being towed to safety by an Italian coastguard vessel.

The tragedies provoked scorn at the E.U.’s response to the growing crisis at sea. An Italian naval operation saved 150,000 lives between October 2013 and October 2014 but was replaced by a more limited E.U. mission called Triton operating with fewer staff, a smaller budget and a limited range.

The mayor of Lampedusa, Giusi Nicolini, said that the 29 migrants would never have frozen to death if Italy’s Mare Nostrum operation was still running. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, called Triton “woefully inadequate”. The E.U. responded by extending Triton to the end of the year, but its scope remains unchanged.

Italy meanwhile is preparing for unprecedented numbers of migrants arriving. Already the shelters on Lampedusa are full and hundreds of migrants arrive at Milan Central Station every week. Mohammed is currently staying at a shelter in Milan for 50 people that houses 100.

The E.U. has offered another €13.7m to help Italy look after the new arrivals, but Gabriella Polifroni, spokeswoman for Milan’s director of social affairs says they also need an overhaul in E.U. policy and a fairer distribution of the refugees. “There is a whole continent, so why can’t we organize them better?” she asks.

Mohammed certainly doesn’t want to stay in Italy, where it can take up to a year for an asylum application to be processed. He has already spent $9,000 in getting to Europe and he won’t stop until he gets to Germany. “My main focus now is to go to a country in Europe where I can reunite with my family,” he says, before he returns to his room to plot the final stretch of his journey.

TIME isis

How ISIS Threatens Europe

Screengrab from an ISIS video made in Libya and released Feb. 15, 2015.
Polaris Screengrab from an ISIS video made in Libya and released on Feb. 15, 2015.

“We will conquer Rome, by the will of Allah”

The threat posed to Europe by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) came closer to home on Feb. 15 when the group released a video showing ISIS militants killing 21 Egyptian Christians on the Libyan shores of the Mediterranean — the same coastline from which each week hundreds of people set sail for Europe. One of the militants points across the sea at the heart of Europe and says: “We will conquer Rome, by the will of Allah.”

“They have been making threats about targeting the West for some time,” says Rob Wainwright, the director of the pan-European Union law enforcement agency EUROPOL. “Here, they’re making [the threat] closer to Europe in geographical terms and in an area of North Africa that’s also the embarkation point for flows of migrants. So common sense would dictate that there is a potential threat there, and we’re very alive to that possibility.”

The spread of ISIS across the Middle East has already had a significant impact on Europe. Unrest has forced record numbers of people to flee the fighting in Syria and Iraq and embark on dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean. In 2014, 200,000 people attempted the sea journey to seek sanctuary in Europe compared to 60,000 the previous year, according to statistics from the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR.

READ MORE: Inside ISIS, a TIME Special Report

The chaos engulfing Libya this year has led more people to sea, with 5,600 attempting the journey in the first two months of this year, up 50 percent on the same period in 2014. This is putting a political and economic strain on nations where the migrants who survive the journey come ashore – and raising concerns that ISIS could be sending fighters to Europe hidden among the refugees.

The U.K.-based counter-extremism think tank Quilliam recently translated an ISIS propaganda paper outlining potential strategies the group could adopt in Libya. One possible approach involves taking advantage of Libya’s vast coastline and its proximity to Europe and travelling on the same routes as migrant boats to slip into Europe undetected.

“If this was even partially exploited and developed strategically, pandemonium could be wrought in the southern Europe,” Quilliam’s translation of the ISIS document reads. “It is even possible that there could be a closure of shipping lines because of the targeting of Crusader ships and tankers.” The researcher who translated the paper, Charlie Winter, notes the claims should be treated as propaganda, with no evidence that ISIS is actually employing this strategy.

Another concern is that fighters could join the refugee exodus fleeing across the Syria-Turkey border and make their way overland through Greece and the Balkans and into Western Europe.

“If, for example, a terrorist would like to enter the territory of the E.U., the easiest way is to cross the border and ask for asylum. Then you have to invite him or her for a coffee or a tea, and for an interview the next day for registration,” says a senior European diplomat from a country experiencing an influx of migrants over its land border. “But since you cannot keep him or her under control, he or she in two hours can take a seat in the train towards Germany.”

There is little evidence, however, of non-European ISIS fighters infiltrating Europe in this manner. Claims that terrorists are coming to Europe disguised as refugees are often used by far-right and anti-immigration parties in their rhetoric against more humane policies towards the increasing number of genuine refugees fleeing the bloodshed in the Middle East.

A far more effective ISIS strategy appears to be cultivating an army of home-grown soldiers living within the European Union borders who are radicalized either online or on the battlefield.

EUROPOL’s intelligence suggests that at least 5,000 E.U. citizens are either fighting alongside jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq right now, or have travelled to those countries and returned home. ISIS is now dominating the recruitment drive for those fighters, who can use their E.U. passports to travel across the continent undetected because of the bloc’s open borders policy, then enter Turkey and slip across to Syria. The concern for European governments is that these young men and women might return radicalized and stage attacks at home.

“The figure is large enough for it to be worrying,” says Wainwright, who last month told a British parliamentary committee that the fighters represented the greatest threat to European security since 9/11. “Not all of them of course will be radicalized enough to the extent to which they’ll want to carry out a terrorist attack on their return. But maybe a good many of them have that potential.”

Last year, Belgium became the first E.U. country to experience an attack by a fighter returning from Syria when a Frenchman – Mehdi Nemmouche – opened fire in a Jewish museum in Brussels, killing four people. In January, police killed two young Belgian men when they raided a house to disrupt a plot to attack police officers on the streets of Belgian cities. The men – and many of the people arrested in connection with the investigation – had travelled to Syria. Belgian media reported that one of the suspects appeared in an ISIS video in which he is seen driving a car dragging dead bodies through the Syrian desert.

TIME europe

Europe Mulls a Russian Language TV Channel to Counter Moscow Propaganda

President Nicolas Sarkozy Meets With Russian President Dmitry Medvedev
Pascal Le Segretain—Getty Images

Diplomats feel they are losing the information war to Russia

Latvian government officials don’t mince words when expressing their views on Russian media. The state-backed television channels beaming into European homes amount to “Goebbels-style propaganda” and are “lying 24/7”, says Viktors Makarovs, an adviser to Latvia’s Foreign Minister, Edgars Rinkēvičs.

Since the West and Russia reverted to old Cold War animosities after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea last year, E.U. and NATO officials have accused Russia of using state media to exploit historical grievances and spread misinformation about the war in Ukraine. The aim, they say, is to discredit the E.U. and stoke tensions among Russian-speaking communities across Europe.

Now Latvia is proposing that the E.U. fights back with its own Russian-language television station. “We cannot just prohibit it,” Makarovs told reporters in the Latvian capital recently, “but we want to create an alternative of comparable quality in technical terms.”

Creating a product of comparable quality to Russia’s slick media machine is, however, the key challenge. While the Kremlin is still sinking money into its state channels despite its recent economic woes and has developed a coherent ideological narrative, the governments of the E.U. remain beset by foreign policy splits and are unlikely to devote their shrinking budgets to a TV station that is not commercially-viable, says Matthew Bryza, a former U.S. diplomat now working for the Estonia-based International Center for Defense Studies.

“It will be very difficult to get a sustained budget and a sustained effort that provides quality programming,” he says.

Makarovs says that the idea is to launch a Russian-language channel produced by independent media experts in the E.U. that would reach Russian-speakers both within the union’s borders and in Russia. He says the plan has tentative support from Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Lithuania and the U.K.. But it is the Baltic states like Latvia and Estonia — where Russian-speakers represent around a quarter of the population — that the need is most acute.

Russian stations like Channel One, Russia1 and NTV-Mir broadcast comedy shows, soap operas and action moves, as well as slick documentaries and current affairs programs that attract audiences with their high production values.

“The success or failure always boils down to whether or not you can get content that people want to watch — no one is going to flip on a TV station which seems propagandist,” says Bryza.

Makarovs insists that is not their intention: “The easy way would be to create a media financed by the E.U. that would be a Brussels mouthpiece… which would be the stupidest thing to do.”

But that is exactly how Moscow sees it. On January 12, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alexey Meshkov accused the E.U. of being the side peddling propaganda. “We’ve always taken a positive position on the freedom of speech,” he said, “but the E.U. plans for creating a kind of counter-propaganda channel can hardly correspond to the concept of freedom of speech.”

Russian media representatives continually deny charges of misinformation, and paint Western media outlets as paranoid or equally prone to bias. But recent budget hikes for state outlets suggest the Kremlin remains committed to its media strategy. It’s flagship foreign-language station RT is getting a funding increase to expand into France and Germany. The state news agency Rossiya Segodnya has also had a budget increase, and last year launched its new English-language Sputnik news service.

The head of the BBC World Service, meanwhile, complained in an interview with The Guardian that they were being “financially outgunned” by Russian outlets. For these reasons, Bryza says he is “not optimistic” of the success of any new channel.

Privately, diplomats are sceptical that the E.U. television station will move beyond the planning phases. But there is a growing understanding that information warfare has to be a priority.

The foreign ministers of Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania and Britain earlier this month wrote a letter to the E.U.’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, warning of the dangers of Russian propaganda. “The objectives are to discredit E.U. narratives, erode support for legitimate Governments in the region, demoralize local populations, disorient Western policy-makers, and undermine the concept of free, independent, pluralistic media,” the paper reads.

Possible counter-measures include boosting support for exiled Russian-language bloggers and existing independent Russian-language media, and challenging Russian media reports though sites like StopFake.org. David Welch, director of the Centre for the Study of War, Propaganda & Society at Britain’s University of Kent, points to the recent success in using fact-based analysis to disprove reports in Russian media of a three-year-old boy crucified in Ukraine, and allegations that a Ukrainian jet that shot down the passenger aircraft, MH17.

He argues that the E.U. should not shy away from an aggressive media campaign of its own, and seize the opportunity to highlight any cracks in the Russian narrative of strength and power. “Increasingly oppressive measures at home together with sanctions and oil prices have clearly undermined the Russian message and inevitably led to more open questioning within Russia,” he tells TIME. “It is this disaffection that offer the West a core focus for its propaganda.”

The truth is the best weapon the E.U. has, analysts say. Now it just needs to find a way to counter Moscow’s grip on the Russian-language airwaves or its target audience will never hear it.

TIME Belgium

Belgium Anti-Terrorism Raid Foils Imminent Attack

Shootout comes the week after 17 people were killed at the office of Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in Paris

The deaths of two terrorist suspects in a gun battle between Belgian police and members of a suspected jihadist cell on Thursday confirms mounting fears that the small European nation is facing a disproportionally high risk of attacks from Islamist extremists returning from Syria.

Police and special forces who conducted the early evening raid in Verviers, a town near the German border, were acting on information that a terrorist cell comprised of people who recently returned from the Syrian battlefield were plotting an imminent strike, said Eric Van der Sypt, a spokesman for the federal prosecutor, at a news conference.

The assault on the property, one of around a dozen raids across Belgium on Thursday night that targeted suspected jihadists, comes the week after 17 people were killed in attacks at the office of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in Paris. But Van der Sypt noted their investigation began prior to those attacks.

“During the investigation we found this group was about to commit terrorist attacks in Belgium,” Van der Sypt said, before describing how the suspects in Verviers immediately opened fire with automatic weapons for “several minutes” before two were shot dead and a third was arrested.

In light of the intelligence about potential attacks and the raid, authorities said the national terrorism threat alert would be raised to its second-highest level.

Belgium authorities have been aware of the extremist threat since reports emerged in 2012 of citizens heading to Syria to fight alongside Islamist militias. Last May, the nation become the first European country to experience an attack by a returning combatant when a Frenchman — Mehdi Nemmouche — opened fire in a Jewish museum in Brussels, killing four people.

Authorities have been struggling to tackle the phenomenon, with some municipalities stripping returning fighters of their residence rights, while other politicians and activists have urged a greater focus on rehabilitation and integration. Police, meanwhile, have been closely monitoring suspected extremist groups.

In April 2013, they raided 48 homes across Belgium in an operation to arrest people believed to be active in recruiting young people to fight in Syria. A few months later, a Belgian teenager posted a video on YouTube threatening a bomb attack on the Atomium, a structure built for the 1958 World’s Fair and one of Belgium’s biggest tourists attractions.

Belgian authorities estimate that around 300 of its citizens have been or are currently fighting in Syria, making up a large chunk of the 3,000 to 5,000 European fighters that Europol chief Rob Wainwright earlier this week estimated were in the country and at risk of radicalization.

“Clearly, we’re dealing with a large body of mainly young men who have the potential to come back and have the potential or the intent and capability to carry out attacks we have seen in Paris in the last week,” he told MPs in Britain.

With Belgium’s population of around 11 million, that gives the country one of Europe’s highest per capita rates of fighters in Syria, meaning a concentration of cells when they return home. Belgium’s border with France — which has also reported a large number of fighters in Syria — makes it vulnerable to extremists crossing over undetected, as was the case with Nemmouche, who is currently detained in Brussels and awaiting trial.

One of the shooters in the Paris attacks is believed to have bought his weapon in Brussels; prosecutors earlier Thursday confirmed they had detained a man on suspicion of selling weapons and were investigating whether there were any links to Amedy Coulibaly, the man accused in the killing of a French police officer and in the kosher-supermarket attack.

Belgium prides itself on being a multicultural society, but unemployment is high among the Muslim community and there have been reports of discrimination against Muslim women who choose to wear traditional clothing. A ban on the full-face veil came into force in 2011. Some far-right parties openly mock Islam, fueling alienation. Many of the Belgians believed to be fighting in Syria are, however, converts to the religion rather than from migrant communities.

Read next: The European Front

TIME europe

Europe’s Anti-Immigrant Parties Make Hay From Paris Terrorist Attack

Dutch far-right wing PVV-leader Geert Wilders stands at the Parliament building in The Hague, The Netherlands, on Dec. 18, 2014.
Evert-Jan Daniels—AFP/Getty Images Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders of the Party for Freedom stands at the parliamentary building in the Hague on Dec. 18, 2014

Far-right and populist parties seize on the attack to underscore their opposition to Islam and migrants

The populist and anti-immigrant parties surging in the polls across much of Europe did not even wait to find out the identity of the attackers before deciding exactly who to blame for the massacre of 12 people at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris. Within hours of the assault on the French satirical magazine, far-right politicians had variously pointed the finger at migrants, refugees and Islam.

Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician facing trial for inciting racial hatred, claimed that Europe was now “at war” and called for the “de-Islamization” of Western societies. “We have to close our borders, reinstate border controls, get rid of political correctness, introduce administrative detention, and stop immigration from Islamic countries,” he said in a statement. He also delivered a YouTube message, in English, to underline the point:

These are not the sentiments of a man on the political fringes: Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV) is currently topping opinion polls in the Netherlands, despite his openly xenophobic statements. His current prosecution stems from a call last year for “fewer Moroccans” in his country.

France’s nationalist leader Marine Le Pen, who is also performing strongly in opinion polls, was quick to blame “radical Islam.” While she refrained from the more incendiary language deployed by Wilders, her National Front party entered into an alliance with his PVV last year.

Despite the U.N. and human-rights groups warning that such sentiments simply increase the climate of intolerance that fuels such attacks, populist parties seem to have found in the attacks a new opportunity to claim vindication for their policies, and to try to bolster support for their causes.

Andrea Mammone, a lecturer in European politics at Royal Holloway, University of London, said the Continent should now be bracing for an “ignorant” debate on immigration and Islam — and one which could boost support for the far-right and other extremist parties if it goes unchallenged.

“Debates on migration, the place of refugees and integration are a feature of Western history,” he said. “These far-right parties will naturally push this further using demagogic slogans. This happened after other attacks, when Muslims became the main enemy, and parties will try and exploit this electorally … Far-right forces might attract voters in this environment.”

The recent rise of Europe’s antiestablishment parties has its roots in the euro-zone crisis, when many people turned against the mainstream political parties that imposed harsh austerity measures demanded by the European Union. With fewer jobs around, cuts to social spending and more economic hardship, migrants and refugees became easy scapegoats.

The Continent’s new political landscape was confirmed in elections to the European Parliament last May, when many far-right and far-left parties doubled their support. In four countries, including the U.K. and France, antiestablishment parties topped these polls.

Their electoral success has continued. In December, the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats become the third largest party in the country. The U.K. is preparing for elections in May that are expected to bring a surge in support for the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP), which argues for reducing the number of migrants in Britain. UKIP’s leader, Nigel Farage, also used the attacks as an opportunity to condemn the U.K.’s “gross policy of multiculturalism” on Thursday.

Europe has seen a large influx of refugees in recent months because of unrest in the Middle East. Around 207,000 people — many fleeing the war in Syria — tried to cross the Mediterranean on dilapidated boats last year, with around 3,500 of them not making it across the choppy waters alive.

Those who survived the journey have quickly become another target. Yesterday the Deputy Speaker of Italy’s Parliament, Roberto Calderoli, directly linked the Charlie Hebdo attacks to an Italian operation, Mare Nostrum, to save migrants in the Mediterranean.

“What happened … in Paris pains me deeply but unfortunately … it does not surprise me,” Calderoli, who is from the anti-immigrant Northern League party, was quoted as saying by Italy’s ANSA news agency. “The policy of open doors to all and Mare Nostrum … have opened a Pandora’s box for which we will never find the lid.”

In Germany, an increase in the number of refugees has prompted rallies by an organization called Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, or PEGIDA. Claims by the group’s leaders that the Paris attacks vindicated their message have provoked angry condemnation from leading politicians.

But while German politicians have spoken out against the xenophobic movement, in many nations the rhetoric about migrants remains unchallenged, with the more established political parties concerned about losing votes. Mammone said that the only way to counter incendiary speech was “a serious, fair and balanced debate on religion, non-European cultures and immigration.”

That was also the message from U.N. High Commissioner for Human Right Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, who urged societies not to allow hateful rhetoric to triumph.

“If this attack is allowed to feed discrimination and prejudice, it will be playing straight into the hands of extremists whose clear aim is to divide religions and societies,” he said in a statement. “With xenophobia and anti-migrant sentiments already on the rise in Europe, I am very concerned that this awful, calculated act will be exploited by extremists of all sorts.”

TIME Malta

Meet the American Couple Saving Thousands Trying to Get to Europe

MERSIN, TURKEY - DECEMBER 06:  Illegal immigrants are escorted by the officers of Turkey's Coast Guard Mediterranean Region Command as they arrive in Mersin, Turkey on December 06, 2014. Some 361 illegal migrants and six organizers of the illegal crossing were captured while trying to illegally reach Europe on fishing boats. (Photo by Turkish Coast Guard Command/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Illegal immigrants are escorted by the officers of Turkey's Coast Guard Mediterranean Region Command as they arrive in Mersin, Turkey on Dec. 6, 2014.

Christopher Catrambone and his wife have spent $7.5 million of their own money rescuing migrants

At first glance, there appears to be little in common between U.S. multi-millionaire Christopher Catrambone and the refugees risking death to cross the Mediterranean Sea. The businessman’s family live in comfort in Malta and take holidays on luxury yachts; the refugees have left their homes and they sail on dilapidated boats.

But rewind a few generations and it was Catrambone’s relatives making sea journeys from Italy and Ireland to seek a better life in the United States. Then when Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana in 2005 and destroyed Catrambone’s home, he fled the devastation and relocated to Europe. “I myself was a displaced person,” he says, “a Katrina refugee.”

In the summer of 2014, Catrambone and his wife Regina channelled that empathy – and $7.5m of the family’s personal wealth – into an extraordinary mission to launch the world’s first private search and rescue operation. The aim of the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) was to locate the flimsy vessels overloaded with men, woman and children trying to reach sanctuary in Europe, and save the lives of the passengers if they were in danger.

“We’re not here to save the world, we’re here to help people who are in desperate need,” says Catrambone, whose fortune comes from a business offering services to companies in conflict zones. “We leveraged nearly 50% of our savings on this project because it was that important to us. ”Now they are appealing for the public’s help to keep the operation going. Global conflicts have forced record numbers of people on perilous voyages to Europe, but rich nations have scaled back operations to save them – a situation Catrambone finds astonishing. “We’re talking about our own loss of human dignity as a society,” he says. “We ignore people dying at sea – you cannot ignore that.”

Catrambone’s Phoenix I set sail on the Mediterranean on August 25th, with the 40-meter ship carrying two remote-piloted aircraft, two inflatable boats and a crew of technical and medical experts. During their 60 days in international waters, MOAS assisted nearly 3,000 people in jeopardy at sea. While an impressive figure, that’s still just a small proportion of the 207,000 people the U.N. refugee agency estimates set sail on clandestine voyages in the Mediterranean this year. That figure dwarfs the previous record of 70,000 people who attempted the voyage in 2011, after the Arab Spring sent the first wave of asylum-seekers towards Europe.

Now, the conflict in Syria has created a refugee community of three million people, many who want to find a more stable future outside the overcrowded camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Syria. They join the tens of thousands of economic migrants trying to escape poverty, and other men, women and children seeking asylum from conflict and persecution in countries like Iraq, Somalia and Eritrea. Most leave from Libya, with human traffickers arranging passage on ramshackle boats. It is an extraordinary risk for families: this year, the U.N. estimates that 3,419 migrants died in Mediterranean – that is approximately one out of every 60 people who attempt the journey.

Catrambone has personal experience of the world’s war zones: his company, Tangiers Group, offers insurance, medical services and security analysis for firms working in high-risk environments. The company is based in Malta, which Catrambone chose as home after leaving the US because of its favorable business climate and proximity to his wife’s family in Italy.

Migration is a divisive issue in most European countries and politicians are wary of doing anything to encourage immigration even if it means leaving many to drown as they try to get to Europe. Italy launched its ‘Mare Nostrum’ search and rescue operation in 2013 after a migrant boat sunk near the island of Lampedusa, killing more than 300 people. But the Italian government stopped the mission in October, in part due to a lack of support from other European nations. Now a limited E.U. mission called Triton has taken its place, patrolling a smaller area and operating on a third of Mare Nostrum’s budget.

Catrambone wonders if political concerns have also stopped private donors from rallying to his cause. He hoped to run the first 2014 summer mission using his and his wife’s wealth and then seek private donations to cover the $490,000-a-month running costs and launch again in March 2015 when calmer seas tempt migrants to cross the sea to Europe. But appeals to foundations and companies have proved unsuccessful, so Christopher and Regina have launched a crowd-funding effort, raising around $42,000 so far.

Money has come from small donors rather than Catrambone’s fellow millionaires, whose luxury yachts he sees anchored in Malta’s Grand Harbour. “Their daily cost to sit at that marina and to run their crew and their operation would cover us for an entire month,” he says.

Catrambone says they will keep trying to raise money until March but if they don’t meet their target they will scale back their operation to a level they can afford. If they stop using the drones, they could half their costs, he says. Many more thousands of migrants are expected to attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea in 2015 but there will be far fewer rescuers to help them if their overcrowded and worn-out boats cannot manage the journey.

TIME latvia

Latvia and U.S. Play War Games as Tensions with Russia Grow

Soldiers from the Latvian army participate in the Silver Arrow NATO military exercise in Adazi, Latvia, Oct. 5, 2014.
Ints Kalnins—Reuters Soldiers from the Latvian army participate in the Silver Arrow NATO military exercise in Adazi, Latvia, Oct. 5, 2014.

NATO members are beefing up their forces in eastern Europe, as Russia dials up its propaganda warfare and military intimidation

Over the sandbanks and marshes of northern Latvia, battle cries rang out late last month as U.S. and Latvian troops stormed a mock-up urban street, a training exercise one officer described as a “Stalingrad-type scenario” for soldiers more used to peace-keeping or fighting rural insurgents. After an €80,000 anti-tank missile and a volley of mortar and artillery fire launch the drills, a U.S. Black Hawk transports Latvian soldiers into the war games scenario, where they go house-to-house searching for a high-value target.

Not far away in the Latvian capital of Riga, officials were getting to work in the newly-inaugurated NATO Strategic Communications Center of Excellence, a hub aimed at countering information warfare by enemies of the 28-member military alliance.

The endeavors are at opposite ends of the tactical spectrum, but reflect the challenges presented by the new hybrid warfare which analysts say is the Kremlin’s modus operandi under President Vladimir Putin. While Russian troops openly went into Crimea this year to annex it from Ukraine, some of Russia’s neighbors are grappling with more subtle meddling and mind games.

“NATO must be flexible,” Latvian Defense Minister Raimonds Vejonis tells TIME, citing economic coercion, propaganda warfare and military intimidation along Russia’s Baltic borders as some of the new threats to emerge in the past year.

“During the last 65 years after the Second World War it was calm and silent in Europe… now the situation has changed this year due to Russian activities in Ukraine. We must be ready to adapt to the new situation, and ready to react to new geopolitical challenges in Europe.”

NATO members are beefing up their forces in eastern Europe as a result. Earlier this year 600 U.S. troops from the 173rd Airborne Brigade deployed to Poland, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia and this week, U.S. tanks returned to Latvian soil for the first time since the Second World War. Joint military exercises have increased in size and frequency. At a NATO summit last month, leaders pledged increased funding for cyber and information warfare units, while also announcing the formation of a Rapid Reaction Force which could deploy to allied nations within days.

Analysts say this is a good start, but there is concern that NATO needs to send a stronger signal that any Russian military intervention – not just a overt invasion – would provoke Article Five, by which an attack on one member demands reaction from all 28.

“This is time for NATO to be crystal clear,” says Matthew Bryza, a former US diplomat now working for the Estonia-based International Center for Defense Studies. “If you use military force in the Baltic states, there will be consequences, there will be war. It needs to be that clear.”

A return to the conventional warfare and military muscle-flexing of the past appears to be the easy part. The generation of military minds overseeing NATO’s transformation is steeped in Cold War history.

“My father was in the military, I grew up in Germany, and was in Berlin when the Berlin Wall fell, so (the context) is certainly not lost on my generation,” says LTC Robert ‘Todd’ Brown, a battalion commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade who designed the urban war games.

The resonance is even stronger in the Baltic states, which spent five decades as part of the Soviet Union. “We know what occupation means,” says Colonel Martins Liberts, Commander of the Latvian Land Forces. He says the joint exercises illustrate the changing focus from peace-keeping and nation-building abroad to multinational forces protecting home soil from conventional threats.

More than 100 of his troops are taking part in the live-fire exercise with U.S. troops over the sand dunes and marshes of Adazi Military Base about an hour’s drive from Riga. After an €80,000 anti-tank missile and a volley of mortar and artillery fire launch the drills, a U.S. Black Hawk transports Latvian soldiers into the war games scenario, where they go house-to-house searching for a high-value target. The street may be made from plywood, and their enemy cardboard silhouettes with balloons pinned to their chests, but the message the Latvians want to send Russia is very real.

“It is a strong political signal to Russia that we are part of NATO [and] Article Five will be enforced if it is be needed,” says Defence Minister Vejonis.

From Russia’s point of view, the war games are another example of NATO creeping closer to its borders, measures it feels are unnecessary and provocative. But Moscow has not held back from its own military posturing: since the start of this year Latvia has detected 170 cases of Russian fighter jets coming close to their border. That compares with about 50 such cases in the previous decade. Russian war ships and submarines have also upped patrols in the Baltic Sea.

The country’s neighbors have also been affected. Last week, Lithuania accused Russia of violating international law after its border guards seized a Lithuanian fishing vessel and its 30 crew whom they accused of illegally trawling for crab in Russian waters. Estonia – which in 2007 blamed Russia for a massive cyber attack on government websites – is currently locked in dispute with Moscow over a security official which its government says was kidnapped on its territory in a cross-border raid last month.

It is these kinds of subtle provocations that Bryza thinks NATO should respond to more forcefully, or risk giving Putin the confidence to escalate the meddling. Bryza also advocates permanent NATO bases on eastern European soil – a move also suggested in the past by Poland and Estonia, but one which would violate a historical NATO-Russia pact.

For now, Latvian officials say they are happy with the Rapid Reaction Force announced in September, but are keen to see it and other defensive measures come into force quickly. “We have been quite good in declarations so far, but implementation is important,” says Andrejs Pildegovics, State Secretary for Foreign Affairs.

“Seeing how deep Russia’s involvement in the war with Ukraine has been, seeing these militaristic statements by Russian leaders, seeing this speculation about how capitals can be conquered in the neighborhood – we think it should be really rapid.”

TIME latvia

Latvia Wary of its Ethnic Russians as Tensions with Moscow Rise

President Vladimir Putin during a government meeting in Moscow, Sept. 11, 2014.
Alexei Druzhinin—Itar-Tass/Corbis President Vladimir Putin during a government meeting in Moscow, Sept. 11, 2014.

Putin's pledge to protect ethnic Russians has the former USSR country on edge as it votes for a new parliament

For a woman Latvian intelligence services have named as a potential anti-state organizer, 29-year-old Margarita Dragile seems more worried about dinner than being a menace to society as she arrives at a Riga café for an interview with TIME this week.

Devouring her salmon and potato pancakes, Dragile wonders when she would have had time to plot against the nation last year when she was busy with the birth of her first child, and worries about the suspicion clouding the country’s Russian-speaking community as tensions with the Kremlin soar.

“We were perceived here as the hand of Moscow, even though we did nothing,” says Dragile. The teacher and social activist is singled out in the 2013 Latvian Security Police report issued in May for associating with two older activists accused of stirring unrest among the large ethnic Russian community. Her organization PEROM, which advocates for more rights for Russian speakers in Latvia, has also received financial aid from a Moscow-based cultural fund, Russkiy Mir (Russian World).

These are sensitive issues at a time when Russian President Vladimir Putin is using the pretext of protecting ethnic Russians in former Soviet states for territorial expansion. With a long history of Soviet occupation, a border with Russia, and the largest Russian-speaking community in the European Union, events in Ukraine have revived fears for Latvia’s own independence ahead of the country’s parliamentary elections this weekend.

The shadow of a resurgent Russia

While any military threat is remote, Russian fighter jets have been flying near Latvia’s borders, and Kremlin diplomats have upped their rhetoric about Riga’s alleged discrimination of the Russian-speaking minority. In response, Latvia has outlawed a Russian state TV channel, a Russian cultural festival, and a Moscow-based compatriot fund.

To the government, these are necessary measures as the country faces what Andrejs Pildegovics, State Secretary for Foreign Affairs, calls “the largest crisis since the demise of the Soviet Union”.

“We cannot repeat events of the 1940s or 1930s when many countries in Europe lost independence because of illegal acts of big powers at that time,” Pildegovics says. “Many bells ring when we hear that a leader of a neighboring country is dismissing the independent choice of the Ukrainian people… when we hear about the legitimate right of Russian leaders to protect everyone who knows a word or a syllable in Russian.”

But to many members of Latvia’s Russian-speaking community – about 37% of a population of two million – it is not only the Kremlin but the Latvian government harking back to the days of the Soviet Union. “The security police report resembles the documents issued by the KGB many years ago,” says Boriss Cilevics, a parliamentarian with the Harmony Center Party, which is predominately supported by ethnic Russians in Latvia.

A country divided

The views of Russia are similarly cleaved along ethnic lines. A recent survey by Riga’s SKDS Research Center found that 64% of ethnic Latvians perceived Russia as a threat to the nation. Among Russian-speakers, that number plummeted to 8%, while over a third (36%) of the community supported Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

The question now dividing the communities is whether that split on Russia is susceptible to Kremlin attempts to drive an ever deeper ideological wedge between them, and even foment separatist sentiment and trigger Russian intervention in Latvia — which, unlike Ukraine, is a member of both NATO and the E.U.

Right now, ethnic Russians are largely happy being part of a prosperous EU nation, and Arnis Kaktins of SKDS sees no indication of separatist sentiment. Defense Minister Raimonds Vejonis blames speculation about independence movements on an information war from Russia.

This is a phenomena the government is struggling to tackle, as most of the Russian-speaking community get their news from Russian channels. “The fight is on for the minds of the Russian-speakers, and it is a very important fight,” says Cilevics, of the Harmony Center Party. “But if you want to gain trust you must show some respect.”

But trust among Russians in a government dominated by ethnic Latvians is in short supply. This suspicion is rooted in a historical grievance after the country’s independence.

The aliens at home

Sergey Tulenev, a 63-year-old political cartoonist and ethnic Russian, remembers the morning in 1991 when he woke up living not only on a new side of the Iron Curtain, but as a citizen of a different state to his wife. While she was a fully-fledged citizen of the new independent Latvia, which had just emerged from 51 years of occupation by the Nazis and then Soviets, he was now stateless.

Tulenev’s family were some of the 800,000 people brought in from elsewhere in the Soviet Union both to implement a ‘Russification’ of the Baltic State and to work in the factories, rail-roads, and on construction sites. He had voted for independence in the referendum of March 1991, but the new government decided that only descendants of people living in Latvia before 1940 would gain automatic citizenship.

In the intervening years the citizenship rules have been relaxed, but Tulenev’s bitterness has not subsided. “People like my parents were the people who built he factories, roads, trains,” he says. “They revived the country from the ruin of the war, and now their descendants are being blamed.”

Today, more than 300,000 people living in Latvia – most of them ethnic Russians who have been there for decades – remain non-citizens. They do not have the right to vote, and carry an “alien” passport. Many like Tulenev refuse to take the naturalization exam on principle, saying they are Latvian and do not need to prove it to the state. For the older generation, the Latvian language section is simply too difficult. Non-citizens’ children can however automatically become citizens.

Such tensions are readily exploited by the Kremlin. At a recent speech in Riga to a gathering of Russian Compatriots in the Baltic States, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s human rights representative, Konstantin Dolgov, told delegates that the issue of non-citizens in Latvia was “a gross violation of human rights at the very heart of civilized Europe”.

These sentiments find sympathy with people with Tulenev. He thinks Russia should help preserve their language and culture abroad through financial assistance, but laughs at the suggestion of military intervention: “No one speaks about tanks – these are just rumors from the United States of America and Barack Obama!” On balance, he says, he trusts Russian media more than Latvian or other Western channels.

A return to a ‘USSR mentality’

This increasing mistrust in the state is driving some voters towards the political fringes. At the last election in 2011, nationalist party the Latvian Russian Union got less than 1% of the vote. In European Parliament elections in May their support increased to more than 6%. At parliamentary elections on Saturday, they are hoping to reach the 5% needed to enter parliament.

The party openly supported Russia’s annexation of the Crimea. Election literature carries photographs of its vice chairman, Miroslav Mitrofanov, signing a cooperation agreement with Sergey Aksionov, the new Kremlin-backed leader of annexed Crimea. Party organizer Yury Petropavlovsky says they receive no support from Moscow and do not want any, but he was adamant about the right of ethic Russians to defend themselves and correct historical wrongs.

For a younger generation of activists, however, there is a desire to distance themselves from nostalgia for the Soviet era. Dragile attended the Riga compatriots’ conference, but disliked what she calls “the mentality of the USSR”. She says her group has now stopped taking money from Russkiy Mir after the backlash at home.

Another attendee, Aleksey Vesyoliy, who runs the Federation of Active Youth, was uncomfortable with political pressure exerted on delegates. “They want all compatriot organizations to follow Russian foreign policy,” he says. “Everyone should support Russian initiatives about the Second World War, about the First World War, and so then everybody is happy – your job as a compatriot is complete. I don’t agree.”

Pildegovics, the foreign affairs secretary, maintains that Latvia remains “an inclusive society which honors ethnic backgrounds and ethnic languages”, and anyone can become a citizen after a “very simple procedure”. But he says the government is ready to draw a line to prevent the spread of “subjects and values which don’t correspond to the mainstream values of the European Union.”

“Cultural diplomacy is important,” he says, “but we don’t like state-sponsored, state-run institutions which use culture as a pretext.”

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