A small demonstration in the center of the biggest south Bohemian city, České Budějovice, on Saturday turned into an unruly xenophobic march to a neighborhood with a dense Roma population. It took many hours before the police, using smoke grenades and tear gas, were able to disperse hundreds of extremists who threw bottles and stones, lit up garbage containers, and chanted racist slogans. Thirty-nine people were detained.
To understand the context of the situation, which comes just weeks after similar anti-Roma unrest in the north Bohemian town of Duchcov, I spoke to Miroslav Mareš, an expert on far-right extremism based at Brno’s Masaryk University, and asked him if this weekend’s events were any different from what we have seen in the past few year.
“I think the difference is mostly the location and the territorial spread of the ethnic riots from northern Bohemia to other parts of the Czech Republic. However, if we remember last year in Břeclav in Southern Moravia there were several similar riots to the ones now in České Budějovice. Maybe then we see that this type of ethnic riots, where the ‘normal’ citizens protest together with right-wing extremists, that’s nothing new in the Czech Republic. There is a stable progression [of these events], at least from [the riots] in Janov, in northern Bohemia, in 2008.”
So, why did the events of this weekend happen now? What could be the ‘bigger-picture’ cause for this?
“This took place after the clash between a Roma family and ethnic Czech family, where one Czech woman was attacked by a Roma woman. So, this was the starting incident. However, we can see similar tensions in many so-called socially excluded localities around the Czech Republic. So, yesterday it was in České Budějovice, however next week it could be in Jihlava, or northern Bohemia or Přerov, for example.”
So, you are saying that this is part of a bigger trend?
“Yes, I think this is not connected only to the situation in České Budějovice. It is connected with rising ethnic tensions in the whole of the Czech Republic.”
Is this in any way connected to the economic situation right now, or does the extremism that accompanies these kinds of riots have roots in something completely different?
“I think there are many factors. Of course, the economic situation is one of them, however also the discontent with Roma crime and delinquency, as well as this subjective feeling of insecurity is a very important issue in this whole radicalization.”
And in terms of the influence that extremists have on the society as a whole…You said that there is a trend where non-extremists getting involved in these riots. Does this mean that these extremist movements will gain more popularity as time goes on?
“There is no strong right-wing extremist party in the Czech Republic. The Workers’ Party of Social Justice, which is the most important representative of the extreme right, is very weak. They only had one person running in the last election. So, this could potentially be a reason for the rise of a new populist movement. On the other hand, there are more important factors for electoral behavior in the Czech Republic, which are mostly in the socio-economic sphere, and it is mostly the dissatisfaction with established politics. Don’t forget, we now have a governmental crisis, we have many scandals involving governing parties and so on.”
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