‘A useful punching bag’: why Hungary’s Viktor Orban has turned on George Soros
5 days ago
There are fears that the far right could be emboldened by a campaign against the Hungarian-born American billionaire. Shaun Walker reports from Budapest
In 1989 the American-Hungarian financier George Soros pay money Viktor Orbn to study in Britain. Two decades later, he donated$ 1m to Orbns government to help the cleanup after the red sludge environmental disaster .
Over the years, the billionaire has spent hundreds of millions of dollars financing education and civil society projects in Hungary, the country of his birth, through his Open Society Foundations( OSF ).
But now Soros has become the Hungarian prime ministers No 1 political target.
On billboards across Budapest Soros stands accused of being a political marionette master. Last week, in a move seen as directly targeting Soros, Hungarys parliament passed legislation necessitating NGOs to declare themselves as foreign agents on their websites and documentation if they receive funding from political sources abroad.
How did it get to this?
Soross reputation in Hungary took a specific made during the course of its 2015 migrant crisis, when his advocacy for the humane therapy for refugees ran up against Hungarys ultra-conservative government, led by Orbn, a rightwing nationalist.
In recent months, the dispute has intensified. The “ministers ” has described the billionaire as someone who had ruined the lives of tens of millions of people with currency speculation.
Soros hit back with a speech in Brussels this month in which he referred to the Hungarian government as a mafia nation and said: He[ Orbn] sought to frame his policies as a personal conflict between the two of us and has constructed me the target of his unrelenting propaganda campaign.
Orbns spokesman, Zoltn Kovcs, told the Guardian that the Brussels speech was a declaration of political war on Hungary. Soros-funded organisations, Kovcs said, were engaged in political activism camouflaged as NGO work.
Goran Buldioski, director of the OSFs Budapest-based Europe office, told Soross funding for Hungary had been dramatically scaled back since the country joined the EU in 2004. Much of the previous funding was for growth and education, with Orbn the recipient of a Soros-funded scholarship to study at the University of Oxford in 1989. Soros also set up the Central European University, based in Budapest, which has been targeted by Orbns government of late.
But Soross foundations spent only $3.6 m in Hungary in 2016, told Buldioski, a tiny fraction of what the government spent on promoting a referendum last October aimed at barring refugees from the country.
On his desk at the OSF offices in Budapest, Buldioski keeps a copy of a recent edition of a popular local newspaper, which featured a full-page photo of Soros on page two, accompanied by the caption Outrageous.
A video recently produced by Orbns ruling Fidesz alliance also uses the Outrageous slogan and complains that the EU wants to change Hungarys tough migration policy, and then tells: An organisation shall be financed by George Soros is launching lawsuits against our homeland in support of Brussels.
The video refers to the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, partially funded by OSF, which provided free legal assistance to about 3,000 people last year, including many asylum seekers, taking 70 examples to the European tribunal of human rights.
The organisation said it would not comply with the new demands to brand itself a foreign agent, calling the law unconstitutional.
Some government critics said the attacks on Soros were merely an exploitative method of harnessing popular support in the run-up to elections next spring.
Hes a very useful punch bag, because hes both the insider and the outsider, the meddling foreigner and the Hungarian Jew, said Heather Grabbe, director of the Open Society European Policy Institute, which is the EU policy arm of the OSF. She added that there were clear antisemitic overtones to the campaign against Soros by Fidesz.
Soros was born Gyrgy Schwartz to a family of Hungarian Jews in 1930, but his father changed their surname to make it more Hungarian. As a young son in the 1930 s, Soros lived in an apartment on Budapests Kossuth tr, the square overlooking the parliament build, until his family was forced to split up and are living in assumed identities to escape the Holocaust. He left Hungary in 1947 to study in London, and later emigrated to the US, constructing billions as an investor and hedge fund manager.
Hungarys Jewish community is split over the question of whether antisemitism plays a role in Orbns grievance with Soros. Adam Schonberger, director of a Jewish organisation that runs the Aurora community centre in Budapest, said he believed the governmental forces campaign was not antisemitic, but had the potential to empower others who were.
The Aurora centre was set up in 2014 and acts as a kind of coalition of the vulnerable, housing the offices of NGOs that work on Jewish issues, Roma issues, LGBT rights, migrants, drug use and homelessness. The proceeds from an on-site bar and regular concerts go to support the running of the space, and the centres initial funding arrived partially from Soros.
Last month, a group of far-right activists defaced the outside of the building, spray-painting Stop Operation Soros on the pavement and plastering photographs of his face with a red cross struck through it on the doorway. Time permitting, we will say hello again, said an article about the two attacks posted on a far-right website. The centre appealed to police, but authorities claimed there was nothing they could do about it.
One of the reasons theyre behaving more brazenly now is that they have a sense that their hour has come. Their mission to save Hungary has become mainstream political ideology, said Schonberger, sitting in Auroras courtyard, which turns into a bar in the evenings.
Buldioski said: In the past, Soros was criticised by the political fringe, rightwing nationalists and some radical leftists. But now, the criticism is moving more mainstream.
Not simply in Hungary. In Romania, the chairman of the ruling Social Democratic party, Liviu Dragnea, told Soros and his organisations have fed evil in the country; while a Polish MP from the ruling conservative government has referred to Soros as the most hazardous human in the world. The US right has also joined in: in a semi-coherent rant, radio host and Donald Trump supporter Alex Jones claimed Soros heads a Jewish mafia.
But while Jones is on the edge of the debate, in Hungary, the anti-Soros discourse has become mainstream, feeding into the populist anti-migrant discourse. Andrs Bencsik, editor of the rightwing monthly publication Demokrata, described Soros as a dangerous man who was destabilising Hungary, first and foremost through his attitude to migration. We said: Thank you very much but we want to close our doors, and Soros told: No, I want you to open the gates.
Benscik, a Fidesz member whose office is decorated with swords, daggers and portraits of Hungarian statesmen, indicated darkly that Soros may have some secret plan to destroy the country, but struggled to explain what this secret conspiracy might be.
Behind his mask there is another person with a objective, we just dont know what it is. He has a special programme in his intellect, but nobody knows what it is, he said.
Yes, Cambridge Analytica, the data-analysis firm that helped U.S. President Donald Trump win the 2016 election, infringed rules when it obtained information from some 50 million Facebook profiles, the social-media company recognise late Friday. But the data received from someone who didn’t hacker the organizations of the system: a professor who originally told Facebook he wanted it for academic purposes.
He set up a personality quiz use tools that let people log in with their Facebook accounts, then asked them to sign over access to their friend lists and likes before using the app. The 270,000 users of that app and their friend networks opened up private data on 50 million people, according to the New York Times. All of that was allowed under Facebook’s rules, until the professor handed the information off to a third party.
Facebook said it found out about Cambridge Analytica’s access in 2015, after which it had the firm certify that it deleted the data. On Friday, Facebook said it now knows Cambridge actually maintained it — an infraction that got Cambridge suspended from the social network. Once that was announced, executives promptly moved on to defending Facebook’s security.
” This was unequivocally not a data breach ,” longtime Facebook executive Andrew Bosworth said on Twitter.” People chose to share their data with third-party apps and if those third-party apps did not follow the agreements with us/ users it is a violation .” Alex Stamos, Facebook’s head of security, echoed the same arguments. Cambridge denied doing anything illegal or employing the information contained in the 2016 presidential election; Facebook tells it has no way of knowing how or whether the data was used for targeting in the Trump campaign.
Facebook’s advertising business depends on users sharing their most personal data via its social network. But the company’s” not a violate” argument isn’t likely to make users feel any safer or more comfy doing so — especially given that it’s already under fire for missing that Russian actors were purchasing U.S. election ads on the site to sway voter sentiments, as well as operating fake accounts disguised as real Americans. The company has also been fending off accusations that it’s too slow to notice or react to harmful content.
The latest incident has raised new the issue of what technological guardrails Facebook has in place to prevent approved users from sharing sensitive datum, and how much visibility the company has into how outsiders use the data.
Facebook wouldn’t comment on those questions, saying only that it has made significant improvements in its they are able to” see and avoid violations” by app developers, such as random audits of applications use its tools to make sure they’re following the rules. And it’s no longer let developers who use Facebook’s login tools see information on their users’ friends.
The disclosure of Facebook’s actions also underscores it’s continuing struggle to anticipate negative consequences of its lack of oversight- in some cases taking action only after things go wrong. The company in the past two years has worked to understand and counteract the spread of misinformation on its site, the use of its automated ad system for racist targeting, the spread of fake user accounts, the spread of violent video, and more.
But when the company tries to explain what it’s doing, it grapples with the perception that it’s shirking responsibility for its problems, treating them as public-relations snafus instead of serious product flaws.
Stamos, the Facebook security executive, deleted his original tweets on Cambridge Analytica, saying he wasn’t so good at” talking about these things in the reality of 2018 .” Specifically, he said he didn’t know how to balance his personal notions with its own responsibility to Facebook and his co-workers, amid all the criticism.
” We have collectively been too optimistic about what we build and our impact on the world ,” Stamos wrote Saturday on Twitter.” Believe it or not, a lot of the people at these companies, from the interns to the CEOs, agree .”
Lawmakers in the U.S. and U.K. aren’t persuaded Facebook has its users’ own best interest in mind. Over the weekend the company faced criticisms from members of the Senate intelligence committee, and in London, the head of a parliamentary committee called on CEO Mark Zuckerberg to have a senior executive answer those questions.
” We have repeatedly asked Facebook about how companies acquire and hold on to user data from their site, and including with regard to whether data had been taken from people without their permission ,” Damian Collins, chair of the U.K. Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Committee, said in a statement.” Their answers have consistently understated the health risks, and have also been misleading to the committee .”
Trump in Moscow: what happened at Miss Universe in 2013
18 days ago
The pageant and the presidents attempts to get close to Putin have become a focus of the investigation into Trumps links to Russian interference in the US election
Sitting in a makeshift studio overlooking the Moscow river on a crisp day in November 2013, Donald Trump pouted, stared down the lens of a television camera and said something he would come to regret.
Asked by an interviewer whether he had a relationship with Russian president Vladimir Putin, the brash New York businessman could not resist boasting.” I do have a relationship with him ,” Trump said.
Russia’s strongman had” done a rather brilliant task “, Trump told MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts, before declaring that Putin had bested Barack Obama.” He’s done an amazing undertaking- he’s put himself actually at the forefront of the world as a leader in a short period of time .”
Trump, a teetotaler, seemed intoxicated by the buzz surrounding the glitzy event that had brought him back to Moscow: that year’s instalment of the Miss Universe contest that he then owned.
Four years later, he is struggling to shake off the hangover.
The 2013 pageant has become a focal point for the simultaneous investigations, led by special counsel Robert Mueller and congressional committees, into whether associates of Trump colluded with Russian officials to help them win the 2016 US presidential election.
Investigators are examining closely endeavours apparently made by the Russian government to pass Trump’s team damaging information on Hillary Clinton, using Trump’s politically connected Miss Universe business partners as couriers.
They are also looking into the $20 m fee that Trump collected for putting on the pageantry from those same business partners- along with extraordinary allegations about Trump’s private conduct behind closed doors at the Ritz-Carlton hotel during his 2013 stay in Moscow.
The Guardian has learned of additional, previously unreported, the linkages between Trump’s business partners on the pageantry and Russia’s government. The ties are likely to attract further scrutiny by researchers who are already biting at the heels of Trump associates.
A full accounting of Trump’s actions in the Russian capital as that autumn turned to winter may be critical to resolving a controversy that has already devoured the first eight months of his presidency.
” Our committee’s investigation will not be complete unless we fully understand who President Trump met with when he was over in Russia for Miss Universe, and what follow-up contacts resulted ,” Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said in an interview.
Trump’s attorney, John Dowd, declined to answer when asked whether the president’s team accepts that the Miss Universe contest is a legitimate area of inquiry for investigators.” Fake news ,” Dowd said in an email.
Belgiums Nationalists Maintain Their Distance From Catalan Campaign
23 days ago
Catalan separatists attempting allies in the European Union may have to look further than the Flemish speaking enclave in Belgium, where patriots say they are maintaining their distance from Catalonia’s chaotic drive for independence.
” I don’t really believe that the Flemish people as such look at the Catalan situation as a kind of precedent, simply as an interesting case to be studied ,” Joachim Pohlmann, a spokesman for the nationalist New Flemish Alliance party in Flanders, told Oct. 26 in a telephone interview as the Catalans careened toward a declaration of independence on Friday.” The situation in Catalonia and Spain is entirely different from the situation in Belgium .”
Belgium thrust itself into the middle of the debate over Catalan succession when Prime Minister Charles Michel, who relies on Flemish support to rule, denounced Madrid’s use of violence during an illegal referendum in the Spanish region on Oct. 1. Despite the EU’s steadfast subsistence of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and its rejection of the need for international mediation, Michel’s words caused consternation in Madrid.
After Catalan President Carles Puigdemont claimed victory in the makeshift ballot at the start of the month, weeks of brinkmanship between Madrid and Barcelona came to a head on Friday when the regional parliament approved a declaration of freedom in a secret ballot. Rajoy, exerting powers given to him by the Spanish senate, dissolved the Catalan parliament and delegated his deputy, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, to become head of the regional government.
No EU Action
EU leaders from Germany’s Angela Merkel to France’s Emmanuel Macron have repeatedly voiced their support for Spain’s stance over Catalonia and on Friday Donald Tusk, the European Council president, said the EU would pay no attention to the Catalan vote.
” For the EU nothing changes ,” Tusk said in a Tweet.” Spain remains our only interlocutor .”
While there have been informal talks between the New Flemish Alliance and its counterpart in Catalonia, Pohlmann said internal issues in Spain are for them to decide.
” It’s not for us to decide whether Catalonia should be independent or not ,” Pohlmann said.” It’s the principle of self-determination that we support, and whether the Catalans decide to be independent or part of Spain is their choice and nobody else’s .”
Flanders, the wealthier, trade-intensive northern part of Belgium, which is home to about 6. 4 million inhabitants, has historically been at odds with its more rural, southern French-speaking neighbours in Wallonia. The New Flemish Alliance supportings independence for Flanders, a region that offer 58 percentage of Belgium’s gross domestic product. Wallonia contributes about 28 percent.
The New Flemish Alliance blocked the organization of a Belgian government for 541 days after the 2010 election. The party put aside its separatist propensities and joined the ruling alliance when power beckoned four years later.
More than the actual freedom and use of violence, it’s the thinking and values behind the Catalans’ actions that the Flemish separatists worry about. Weighing in on the drama, Flemish Government chief Geert Bourgeois told RTL radio in an Oct. 22 interview that he doesn’t” understand the attitude of the Spanish government and I don’t understand either the attitude of Europe. There are fundamental values that are being questioned .”
‘ I hopped up on the wall and got my sax out ‘: the autumn of the Berlin Wall
1 month, 1 day ago
Stephen Ellery plays the saxophone on the Berlin Wall, 10 November 1989
My obsession with the Eastern bloc, particularly the Soviet Union, started when I was doing my -Alevels; inspired by cold war snoop narratives, I wanted to be a nuclear physicist in Moscow. In the end, I examined composition at Birmingham Conservatoire. When the distinguished Polish composer Marek Stachowski visited government departments, we got talking and I managed to persuade him to let me study with him. Thats how I aimed up, aged 23, living in Krakow, analyzing composition and conducting.
To make ends meet during my two and a half years there, I played saxophone in Hamburg. With merely two lessons a week at college, I had long weekends, so Id catch the sleeper train to East Berlin, cross the city, then hitch to Hamburg it was easy and encouraged, and you never had to wait more than 10 minutes. Id find a jam session in a jazz club, and join in with the hope of being asked to gig with them. Id often earn 200 DM, which was a fortune.
Id sometimes spend time in East Berlin on the way back; my Krakow residents permit allowed me to stay longer than western tourists. It was very neat and orderly. The official exchange rate was one East German DM to one West German DM, but nobody paid that. If you bought them in the west, it was 11:1. So Id stuff my pocket with notes and live like a king ballet, opera, champagne, caviar, nice dinners. East Berlin eateries were really good compared with the rest of the country.
I was aware of the changes afoot in the region for a few months: traveling limiteds easing in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, mass protests. But no one would have predicted what happened on the night of 9 November.
I was in West Berlin the following morning; I went to Checkpoint Charlie, my usual crossing phase into East Berlin, to catch the develop back to Krakow. Instead of orderly queues of people indicating their papers at the border, East Germans were streaming through, hugging and crying.
People were sitting on the wall, drinking champagne and brews, so I hopped up to join them. I always had my sax with me, so it seemed natural to get it out. I played Misty, In The Mood, Autumn Leaves, and a few blues and rock numbers. I climbed down when I started to get chilly, and caught the sleeper develop back to Poland.
I usually slept with my saxophone, but that night, after a few too many brews, I set it on the empty bunk above me. When I woke up, it used to go. It was funny, because Id been thinking of donating it to someone( a young student, say) when I got back to Krakow, so I could focus on my conducting. It was my papas saxophone.
A few months later, at the end of December, he called to say this photograph was in the Independent, part of a huge supplement on the momentous events a few months earlier.
I did eventually get to the Soviet Union, just as it was collapsing, and remained for four years, analyzing and running as a conductor, which I still do today. I never did make it as a nuclear physicist.
Icelanders flock to religion idolizing Sumerian divinities and tax rebates
1 month, 13 days ago
Ancient Zuist movement enjoys revival as thousands join as part of protest against requirement that citizens pay taxes to state church
Icelanders opposed to the state fund of religion have flocked to register as Zuists, a motion that worships ancient Sumerian gods and perhaps more importantly promises its followers a tax rebate.
More than 3,100 people almost 1% of Icelands population have joined the Zuist movement in the past two weeks in protest at paying part of their taxes to the country church and other religion bodies. Followers of Zuism will be refunded the tax part earmarked for religion.
Icelanders are required to register their religion with the state, with virtually three-quarters of the population affiliated to the established Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland. There are more than 40 other registered religious bodies that qualify for parish fees paid through the taxation system. The sum set in next years budget is the equivalent of about $80( APS5 3) per taxpayer over a year.
There is no opt-out. Those who are unaffiliated or belong to unregistered religions effectively just pay higher taxes, said Sveinn Thorhallsson, a Zuist spokesperson. An opinion poll published in September demonstrated 55% of respondents want an aim to the system.
Zuism, based on the venerate of Sumerian deities, registered as a religion in Iceland in 2013. But inactivity put it at risk of being de-registered by the authorities earlier this year.
A group of citizens opposed to the country fund of religion mounted a takeover, promising converts that they would be refunded their parish fees.
The English section of the Zuists website says: The religious organisation of Zuism is a platform for its members to practise a religion of the ancient Sumerian people. Zuists fully support freedom of religion, and from religion, for everyone. The organisations primary objective is that the government repeal any law that awards religious organisations privilege, fiscal or otherwise, above two organizations. Furthermore Zuists demand that the governments registry of its citizens religion will be abolished.
Zuism, it adds, will cease to exist when its objectives have been met.
Some politicians have claimed that Zuism should be de-registered because it is not a true religion. But the real question is, what is a true religious organisation and how do you measure belief? said Thorhallsson, who describes himself as agnostic.
Perhaps astonishingly, some newly registered Zuists were also presenting an interest in Sumerian worship, he added. We had a service, with a read of ancient Sumerian poetry. Were scheming another.
According to article 62 of the constitution, the Evangelical Lutheran Church shall be the State Church in Iceland and, as such, it shall be supported and protected by the State.
Thorhallsson said: We want people at the very least to be able to opt out[ of the parish fee ]. He added it was equally important that in a modern society the state should not keep a register of peoples religious beliefs.
StefA! n Bogi Sveinsson of the Progressive party urged the Zuists to de-register as a religious motion. No one has registered in the organisation to practice Zuism itself, he wrote, according to a report in the Reykjavik Grapevine. Their reasons for registering are rather twofold: to get fund in their pockets, or to protest against current legislation about religious organisations.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church had no one available to comment.
Netherlands ‘will pay the price’ for blocking Turkish visit- Erdogan
1 month, 25 days ago
Turkeys president accuses west of nazism as row escalates after pastor is turned away from Rotterdam consulate
The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoan, has warned the Netherlands it will pay the cost for a diplomatic stand-off after a Turkish minister was blocked from visiting her countrys consulate in Rotterdam and tensions between the two countries explosion in angry protests.
Erdoan described the therapy of Fatma Betl Sayan Kaya, minister for families, as shameless and accused the Dutch of behaving like a banana republic.
If you can sacrifice Turkish-Dutch relations for an election on Wednesday, you will pay the price, Erdogan said in a speech in Istanbul. I guessed nazism was over, but I was wrong. In fact, nazism is alive in the west.
He called on international organisations to impose sanctions against the Netherlands but did not say if there would be direct repercussions from his country.
The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, who faces a stiff political test in parliamentary elections on Wednesday, said Turkey had intersected a diplomatic line. This has never happened before, a country saying someone is not welcome and then them coming irrespective, he said, referring to Kayas decision to travel to Rotterdam by vehicle after her colleague, the foreign minister, Mevlt avuolu, was banned from flying in to the Netherlands on Saturday.
Branding the move irresponsible and demanding Erdoan apologise for his references to nazism, Rutte nonetheless said he would continue to seek a diplomatic answer. His words appeared to fall on deaf ears, however. On Sunday night, speaking in the French city of Metz, avuolu “ve called the” Netherlands the capital of fascism.
Hamburg to hold free concert to thank G20 police officers
2 months, 4 days ago
( CNN) The Hamburg concert hall that hosted Donald Trump, Angela Merkel, and Vladimir Putin last week will open its doors for free on Thursday to some of the 20,000 German police officers who were deployed during the course of its G20 summit.
According to Hamburg Police, 476 policemen were injured during the three days of rallies and riots, when thousands of protesters converged on the summit of world leaders to demonstrate against capitalism and demand action on key issues including climate change and migrants’ rights.
The concert “is a marvellous signal of recognition and respect for the extremely tough service the police had to through during the G20 summit, ” protest organizer Nicholas Hill from the ‘Hamburg zeigt Haltung'( Hamburg shows attitude) procession told CNN in an email.
On final Ukraine trip, Biden urges Trump administration to keep Russia sanctions
2 months, 8 days ago
Comments while meeting with Ukraines president came after Trump indicated he could aim Crimea-related sanctions in return for a nuclear arms reduction deal
Vice-president Joe Biden, on a last foreign journey before leaving office, fulfilled Ukraines president on Monday and called on the incoming Donald Trump administration to retain Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia.
US intelligence agencies believe Russia sought to covertly influence the US election in Trumps favour and against the Democratic nominee, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton. Trump has recently admitted that he believes Russia did orchestrate such hackers, but has nonetheless fuelled a bitter feud with intelligence officials over the issue.
The international community must continue to stand as one against Russian coercion and aggression, Biden told reporters, standing alongside Poroshenko, in remarks which did not include reference to Trump by name.
The Crimea-related sanctions against Russia must remain in place until Russia returns full control to the people of Ukraine.
Together with our EU and G7 partners, Biden said, we made it clear that sanctions should remain in place until Russia fully, emphasise fully, enforces its commitments under the Minsk agreement.
Poroshenko said Ukraine believed in good cooperation with the new US administration and urged sanctions to stay, without mentioning Trumps statements on a deal with Russia.
Andy Hunder, the head of the American Chamber of Commerce in Ukraine, said Kiev would have to put much time and resources into dealing with the new US administration.
On 20 January Ukraine will be waking up to a new reality, he told Reuters. There is a concern in Kiev about how the new relationship will develop. It will require constructing new bridges to the influencers, the gatekeepers and decision-makers.
Kiev has taken steps to win the very best favour of the those calling the shoots in the Trump administration. Days after the election in November, Poroshenkos office started planning an official visit to Washington in early 2017.
If You Find A Body Buried With A Sickle, There’s A Very Weird Reason For It
2 months, 12 days ago
Among other things, Medieval Europe was known for its insanely superstitious beliefs in the supernatural. They led to some pretty brutal acts of violence and desecrations of the recently dead. While some of us may be familiar with various forms of vampire burials, a newly discovered superstitious tradition from the Middle Ages has been found in an ancient graveyard in northwestern Poland…
The Drawsko cemetery in Poland has been the site of extensive excavation efforts by researchers in recent years.
Recently, researchers came across something bizarre: several corpses were buried with what appears to be an ancient iron sickle placed around their necks.
According to a new study, rather than avoiding the bodies from reanimating as vampires, these sickles were there as a route to ward off demon spirits. Those to participate in such studies quoth the so-called ‘anti-demonic’ properties of iron. Iron forged by fire in that culture was known to typify the transition from life to death and back to life.
While it’s impossible for us to know exactly why these people were buried with sickles, it’s still a fairly darned creepy practice…no matter how you look at it.