Police in the South Moravian town of Břeclav have called off an investigation into three Roma who allegedly beat up a 15-year-old boy, in an incident that raised racial tensions around the country. The boy has confessed that the attack never took place, he injured himself in a fall, and the mass demonstrations that followed now look like just another sign of widespread prejudice against the Roma minority.
One month ago the citizens of Břeclav in Moravia took to the streets in droves, protesting the beating of local teenager Petr Zhyvachivsky by three Roma. The teenager was left in serious condition in hospital and lost a kidney, all allegedly because he did not have a cigarette for the attackers. Thousands of people joined extreme right-wingers in what they called a “march against gypsy violence”. Some locals told reporters it was time the Roma left town. Public collections for the boy were taken. The 80s pop idol Michal David held a benefit concert, raising 100,000 crowns that was donated to the victim’s family.
Luckily though, the police were more sceptical than the general public. This is what police investigator Luděk Blahák told a press conference:
“Today, a lie detector test was made to check the credibility of some of the witnesses. When the victim’s statement seemed untrustworthy, we proceeded to question him. In questioning the boy stated that the incident that he originally described had not occurred, that he had caused his injuries himself. He had injured himself by falling over an eighth storey railing that he was doing a gymnastic exercise on...”
That a community is duped by a youngster who’s afraid to tell his mother the truth is the stuff of fables, and they never end well. Whatever happens to young Petro now, himself the son of Ukrainian immigrants, will not compare with what the local Roma community has endured in the last month. Alena Gronzíková works for the IQ Roma civic association:
“It was a very painful, personal experience for all of us. We were all considered collectively guilty, even though we had condemned the act. What the boy testified to was a brutal act, and we are also mothers and parents and had the same fears for our own children. But it was humiliating to go down the street to the shop and people would look at us as if we had done it.”
Meanwhile, on the same day as the boy’s confession, Amnesty International issued its human rights report for last year, which seemed to describe exactly the events of Břeclav last month. The organisation cites growing extremism, mounting tension between Roma and non-Roma, racist comments from local politicians, segregation in schools and a lack of interest on the part of the government to take any real steps towards resolving matters. This, like many of the many similar incidents of recent times, will likely be left to be resolved locally. Alena Gronzíková again:
“We are going to want a public apology from the boy’s mother, and we will take the necessary legal measures to discuss some kind of redress. On the other hand though, I think this is an opportunity that should make us all stronger and learn to communicate. All’s well that ends well, and I hope this experience will help us all avoid making premature judgements if anything similar ever happens in the future.”
The mother of Petr Zhyvachivsky has apologised and asked for a public apology to the Roma community. She also returned the 100,000 donation to singer Michal David with the suggestion that the money be given to a handicapped girl from the area.