Human rights groups Amnesty International and the European Roma Rights Centre have asked the Czech authorities to protect the country’s Romany community from violence and intimidation. The call comes ahead of a series of anti-Romany rallies planned in 13 Czech towns by far right extremists in the coming weeks. The groups say the government must ensure that these protests do not lead to violence against Roma communities, and that those at risk get the protection they need. The Czech Republic has seen rising ethnic tensions between the majority population and the 300,000 or so strong Romany community. The Czech secret services recently warned mainstream anti-Romany sentiments could become a bigger threat than far right extremism.
In recent months, a series of violent rallies targeting Romany communities have been seen in the Czech Republic. Besides known far-right activists, the protestors have included large numbers of ordinary locals frustrated with what they see as the authorities’ inability to deal with high crime levels and other problems plaguing Romany-dominated districts. Now, the Czech intelligence service has warned that anti-Romany sentiments in mainstream society could become a more serious threat than far-right extremism. I discussed the report with sociologist
In a quarterly report on national security, the Czech intelligence service BIS has warned of an alarming rise in anti-Roma sentiments among the public. The report pointed to the fact that in the recent protests and clashes in the towns of Duchcov and České Budejovice a large number of regular citizens joined small groups of right-wing extremists. BIS experts believe that frustrations with everyday petty crime and violence in combination with latent anti-Roma sentiments may prove to be a serious threat for the security of the country in the future. Until now, smaller groups of extremists were behind the major anti-Roma clashes, and did not present a significant threat. The security report said that the ethnic tension needs to be resolved an effective, pragmatic and unemotional manner as soon as possible.
The regional court in Liberec has handed out three to sixteen year sentences for attempted murder in the case of a group of Romanies who launched a brutal machete attack on people in a bar in Novy Bor. Two of the five accused who led the attack got 15 and 16 year sentences, the others three to five years in jail. The incident happened in August of 2011 after two young Romanies felt they had been slighted by some of the guests in the bar. They left and soon after five other Romanies appeared armed with machetes and knives and started attacking people in the bar at random. One man, who was attacked with a machete, nearly died of his injuries.
Lukáš Houdek is a man of varied interests. As well as being a photographer who has explored the post-war massacres of Czechoslovakia’s ethnic Germans, he is co-curator of an exhibition entitled Transgender Me that gets underway in Prague on Monday. In addition, Houdek, a Romani Studies graduate, writes for a leading Roma affairs website; indeed, for much of our interview I was under the mistaken impression that he himself was a member of the ethnic minority.
The UN Human Rights’ Committee has asked the Czech government to close down a pig farm located on the site of a former Nazi concentration camp for Romanies. Built in the 1970s, the farm has been a source of embarrassment to all post-1989 governments, but despite bringing the country international disgrace, it is still there and likely to remain so.
The authorities in the west Bohemian town of Pilsen are taking steps to diffuse growing ethnic tension in the city, following a wave of complaints against the local Romany minority. The city council and the local police have agreed on a number of measures including an increased police presence in problem areas, more surveillance cameras in the streets and Romany mediators in places where conflicts have escalated. City hall officials say the problems are exacerbated by developments in Ceske Budejovice, south Bohemia, where a conflict on a playground between Romany and non-Romas parents triggered protests and street violence for several weekends in a row.
Around 70 right-wing extremists attended a protest on Saturday in the Moravian town of Svitavy in support of the jailed skinhead Vlastimil Pechanec, who is serving a 17-year sentence for a racially motivated murder in 2001. Similar protests have been held in Svitavy for the past eight years, though this year the attendance is lower than in the past. Last year, some 130 people attended.
The police have charged five more people in connection with the recent unrest and anti-Roma demonstrations surrounding the Máj neighborhood in the South Bohemian town of České Budejovice. The charges, leveled against both demonstrators and local Roma residents, include disorderly conduct, violent acts against a group, and inciting racial and ethnic hatred. Three major protests took place in České Budejovice over the past three weeks, which involved both local residents and extremist demonstrators from elsewhere. The police detained more than 60 people during the protests, and so far a total of 10 people have been charged.
The Prague City Hall has said it wants to get homeless people off Prague’s trams, buses and metro. Mayor Tomáš Hudeček said on Thursday he will establish a working group to tackle the problem. The body is to be made up of Prague Transport authority officials, police officers and NGO representatives. Mr. Hudeček said it was not yet clear how many officers and street-workers would be needed to resolve the problem. He said he hoped to see results in the winter of this year. Due to the inadequate capacity of Prague shelters for the homeless many homeless people seek protection from the cold on the city’s public transport.
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