An anti-Romany march organized by a far-right party escalated when radicals were joined by locals in an attempted attack on a Romany housing unit in a small town in North Bohemia on Saturday. The event was only the latest in a series of racially-motivated incidents that have occurred in the region in recent weeks, where racial tensions between the Czech and Romany communities have been acerbated by high unemployment and a rise in crime.
Police had to intervene to keep an angry mob of locals and far-right extremists from breaking into a Romany housing unit in Varnsdorf, North Bohemia, after a march organized by the far-right Workers Party for Social Justice departed from its planned route. Attackers yelled racist slogans and shouted “Don’t protect these animals!” at the police.
Some 600 to 700 people participated in Saturday’s anti-Romany demonstrations; with some 600 police officers working to ensure law and order in the Šluknov area in the biggest such operation since racial tensions erupted in Litvínov in 2008.
Kumar Vishwanathan, a Romany rights activist and social worker, has spent the past week in Varnsdorf and says he is deeply shocked by what he saw on Saturday.
“This group of native Varnsdorf people let themselves be hypnotized by a group of extremists, neo-Nazis, and went after the blood of the Romanies. That is terrible, and that shouldn’t happen. It is an act of barbarianism, and something like that should not happen in a civilized country.”
On the same day, two gatherings of far-right extremists took place in Rumburk and Nový Bor, other towns in North Bohemia that have become flashpoints recently. Police made a total of 21 arrests and charged four. Six people, among them three policemen, were injured. Both Interior Minister Jan Kubice and the deputy chief of police were present at the demonstrations, which were monitored by a police helicopter.
Saturday’s events are only the latest in a series of racially motivated gatherings aimed against the region’s Romany minority. The director of the Romany rights group Romea, Zdeněk Ryšavý, says that racial tensions are compounded by the area’s high unemployment and crime rate.
“It is not just the Romanies that have difficulty finding work in this region, where unemployment is rampant. Also ethnic Czechs find it hard to get a job there, and they are not much better off than the Romanies. So they are seeking an outlet for their frustration and have found it in the local Romany population. And the reason why this is escalating right now are isolated criminal acts of Romany individuals. The majority population is applying the principal of collective guilt, which is unacceptable.”
The situation in the Šluknov district first escalated in late August. Following an improvised rally of some 1,500 locals who gathered in Rumburk, yelling racist slogans and asking Romanies to leave, Prime Minister Petr Nečas ordered an increased police presence in the area. But Romany rights NGOs are calling for a systemic approach to address heightened racial tensions, highlighting the importance of fighting unemployment and crime. Currently, the government’s Romany inclusion agency, along with the Labor, Interior and Education Ministries, are working on a strategy to address these issues.
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