Race relations strained in Czech Republic too

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 19th of April 2011   Source: budapesttimes.hu, Written by Bill Lehane

This article is archive

Police crack down on impromptu church service as ‘neo-Nazis’ march in support of boy raped by Roma,


Hungary’s EU Presidency slogan of a “strong Europe” that will not tolerate racial discrimination continues to look optimistic with on-going Roma problems at home and incidents abroad such as a violent clash at an extremist march in the Czech Republic this month.

As four defendants stand trial in Pest County Court over a series of murders of Roma, and far-right vigilantes patrol Hungarian villages to “prevent Roma crime”,  Czech police again battled counter-demonstrators opposing what the latter said was a neo-Nazi demonstration, this time in the town of Krupka, north Bohemia.

Police make way for far right

The police forcibly dispersed a crowd of around 200 Roma and activist supporters holding an ecumenical service on 9 April, after the crowd refused multiple requests to move. Campaigners said a 75-year-old Greek Catholic clergyman was among several people who received mild injuries in the police intervention. Seven demonstrators and counter-demonstrators were arrested, although only one was subsequently taken into custody.

Taking justice into their own hands

The service was being held at the entrance to a housing estate where most residents are Roma, and blocked the path of a pre-approved march through the town by around 150 supporters of the extremist Workers Party of Social Justice (DSSS).

Representatives of the “We Don’t Want Neo-Nazis in Ústí” initiative said they were considering legal action against the police over the incident. Ústí nad Labem is a Czech administrative region.
The injured clergyman, Ludvík Stastny, said he believed the police intervention against a religious service of Bible readings, sermons and Christian hymns was a serious violation of fundamental constitutional rights.

Human rights researcher and campaigner Gwendolyn Albert strongly criticised the “government at all levels” for not intervening against extremist marches, and accused the government of “violating international human rights principles by failing to prevent this targeting of members of a minority”.
“This government clearly believes the DSSS has the free-speech right to continue the campaign of psychological warfare against Roma people that led to its predecessor, the Workers Party, being banned,” she said.

Followed letter of the law

Czech police said they based their intervention on a legal analysis from the Interior Ministry that found while religious gatherings did not require advance approval they were still subject to the law on general assemblies. The analysis also found that announced assemblies should take priority over religious ones.

Racially motivated rape

The DSSS said its march was to highlight an attack in which two Roma youths brutally beat and raped a boy named Patrik in Krupka a year ago, in an incident the courts have found was racially motivated. Demonstrators chanted slogans such as “Gypsies to work” and “Patrik, we are with you”.

Last month, a Court of Appeals halved the sentence of one of the assailants from 10 years to five.

The other youth was not prosecuted because he was under 15 – the age of criminal responsibility.

DSSS chairman Tomás Vandas praised the police for allowing his party’s march to continue but criticised the arrest of one of the party’s speakers, a Slovak extremist-party member whose speech police said “showed indications of racial intolerance”.

Asked for specific examples of the “reverse racism” he decried in his own address, Vandas told The Prague Post the DSSS “has many testimonies by people who turn to us and say how they are treated in employment offices or social services is completely different.”

“The government worries about being called extremist or racist, so it doesn’t enforce any policies against an EU official who tells us how to behave toward gypsies,” he said.

In remarks clearly aimed at the Roma community, Vandas said his party supported “repressions when needed” to ensure “equal treatment,” saying there could be no “integration” without preventing an “attitude... where they feel they get away with everything.”

Vandas said his party receives “five to 10 requests a week” from people asking them to demonstrate in their town, particularly in north Bohemia and Moravia.

“This happens because people don’t trust the state, and their only solution is that by rallying there we would get media attention, and their problem will be solved,” he said. The party’s next rally would be in Brno on 1 May, with more to follow.

EU deadline

EU Commissioner for Justice and Rights Viviane Reding said at the launch of the 5th European Roma Platform in Budapest’s Millenáris Park this month that a new mindset is needed in Roma communities as well as among Europeans as a whole. The European Commission has unveiled a new Roma strategy that gives member states until the end of the year to present comprehensive policies to help their Roma citizens.

Fidesz politician Lívia Járóka is the European Parliament’s only Roma member. She said the EU’s new Roma strategy is the beginning, not the end, of considerable work ahead. Full integration could take generations, she suggested.


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