April 8 is International Roma Day and several events are being held across the Czech Republic to mark the occasion. One of the biggest events is an exhibition of 30 racially-motivated murders since 1989, which is taking place at Prague’s Náměstí Míru. International Roma Day was first marked in 1971 and was introduced in the Czech Republic in 1990.
One community that’s borne the brunt of skinhead attacks are the country’s Romanies, 250,000 of whom live in a state of uneasy cohabitation with their white neighbours. Romanies make up half of the three dozen people killed in racially-motivated attacks since the fall of communism. April 8th is International Roma Day, which was first marked in 1971 and has been celebrated here in the Czech Republic since 1990. We spoke to Ivan Vesely, head of the Roma organisation Dzeno.
This week saw the launch of a new campaign aimed at raising awareness of the growing problem of right-wing extremism and neo-Nazism in the Czech Republic. The scheme, organised by the Czech based NGO People in Need and various partners, is called NeoNácek Chcete Ho?, which translates as Who wants a Neo Nazi? It involves several innovative initiatives as Jamie Brindley explains:
Around 20 people gathered on Sunday at the site of the former concentration camp for Roma in Lety, central Bohemia, to commemorate the victims of the Roma holocaust. An orthodox service was then held in the victims’ memory. More than 300 Roma died in the Lety camp during the Second World War while another 500 were transported to Auschwitz. The Czech Republic has been repeatedly criticized by the EU for failing to remove a pig farm from the site and to erect a memorial for the camp’s victims.
In the past couple of weeks two incidents have threatened to disturb the peaceful coexistence between Czechs and the country’s Muslim community, centred mainly in the Moravian city of Brno. First, the city was plastered overnight with posters depicting the controversial Danish caricature of the prophet Mohammed which sparked violent protests across the Muslim world. And then last week the ultra-right National Party placed the controversial anti-Qur’an film Fitna by the rightwing Dutch MP Geert Wilders on its web page.
Around 150 far-right extremists gathered at a memorial to German soldiers who died in World War II in Jihlava on Saturday. A flyer for the gathering said the Germans had been victims in the war and denied the Holocaust. One of the neo-Nazis who spoke at the gathering was taken in for questioning by police in the Moravian town.
It has only been five months since Ottawa dropped visa requirements for Czechs, but since then Canada has seen a marked jump in asylum applications by Romanies from the Czech Republic. On Wednesday, the Toronto Star reported that more than 100 claims had been put forward since November and there is now concern a rise in applications could cross a key threshold in 2008. Under such circumstances, Canada might reassess its visa policy and reintroduce travel restrictions for Czechs.
Over 100 Romanies from the Czech Republic have applied for political asylum in Canada since it lifted a visa requirement for Czech visitors at the start of November, the Toronto Star reported. While in the first ten months of 2007 no Czech Romanies lodged asylum requests, 83 did so in November and December, while 45 applied in January. The fresh applications have raised apprehensions that there could be a repeat of a situation in 1996, when the North American state lifted travel restrictions for Czechs and around 4,000 Romanies from the Czech Republic arrived in Canada; most of them gained refugee status.
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