As the authorities struggle to deal with growing racial tension in the north of the country, the town of Čáslav, east of Prague is ringing alarm bells and taking steps to prevent a similar scenario unfolding on its own premises. With between 100 and 150 Romanies newly arrived in town, Čáslav is scrambling to prevent the creation of a ghetto and approving strict measures to ensure law and order.
Prime Minister Petr Nečas visited Northern Bohemia on Monday where the local authorities have been struggling to deal with growing racial tension and a wave of anti-Romany sentiment. Mr Nečas visited ghettos, talked to local inhabitants and debated specific measures with community representatives. In Nový Bor he thanked the locals for showing restraint in their protests and not supporting extremist groupings which have tried to use the crisis for their own ends. Extremist demonstrations and public gatherings have been taking place in the region since August, when several violent, apparently racially-motivated conflicts occurred. Local forums held to discuss the situation have criticised negligence on the part of the police and town halls and a liberal social welfare system.
A thirty-four- year- old Romany man with a machete threatened people in a bar in Varnsdorf, north of Prague, late on Sunday night. Witnesses say the man barged in, shouted insults and threatened to eliminate everyone in the place. He left as the owner called the police and was apprehended shortly after. The incident reflects growing ethnic tension in the north where a recent attack on a bar in the town of Nový Bor ended in bloodshed and serious injuries. There is a heightened police presence in the area.
The cabinet is to meet on Wednesday to discuss growing racial tension in the north of the country, Romany ghettos and social exclusion. Ministers are expected to debate a comprehensive strategy aimed at fighting social exclusion of Romanies in the spheres of education, housing, employment, health care and security. According to available statistics there are some 400 Romany ghettoes around the country with an estimated 80.000 inhabitants. The vast majority of adults living in them are jobless. A rise in racially motivated crime in the north of the country in recent weeks has escalated tension between the majority population and the Romany minority with calls for their eviction.
On Monday, Prime Minister Petr Nečas, Labor Minister Jaromír Drábek and the government’s human rights commissioner set off on a visit to the North Bohemian Šluknov district, where racial unrest is escalating and unemployment and crime are on the rise. Government officials are now meeting with local politicians to discuss possible solutions to a situation that is threatening to spin out of control, but some say their reaction has come too late.
Politicians from various parties told Czech Television on Sunday that the current racial discord in Northern Bohemia could be helped a central register of offences. Speaking on a debate programme, Civic Democrat Miroslava Němcová, Public Affairs’ Karolína Peake and Social Democrat deputy chairwoman Marie Benešová agreed that the measure would only be a partial step. Ms Peake raised other measures, such as increasing the strictness of hygienic norms and restricting the purchase of coloured metals, assumedly in an effort to dissuade non-adaptive residents from living there. Ms Němcová confirmed that Prime Minister Nečas is to visit the region this coming week.
Prime Minister Petr Nečas has cited previous ‘overly generous’ social policies as one of the causes of racial tensions in the area of Varnsdorf. Speaking at a conference of Civic Democrat mayors in Brno., the prime minister said that it continues to be more comfortable for many people to accept social welfare rather than take up legal employment. The main priority of the state, he said, is to ensure people’s security and protect their property. Mr Nečas will apparently be visiting the area next week.
Yet another demonstration took place on Saturday in the North Bohemian town of Varnsdorf, where racial tensions have been running high for a number of weeks. Police dispatched several hundred riot officers to counter a similar number of protesters, among them members of the extreme-right Workers’ Party for Social Justice, the successor of the banned neo-Nazi Workers’ Party. The protesters were blocked from marching on an area inhabited predominantly by Roma and then dispersed. The demonstration was the seventh to be held in the area this month. Last week a protest attended by some 1,000 people turned violent as extremists attacked riot police with bottles and stones. Thirty-seven people were arrested and six injured.
The Czech Trade Inspectorate has uncovered fifteen incidents of discrimination against consumers. In one case, racial discrimination occurred when a landlord refused to rent out an apartment to a Romany woman. Other forms of unacceptable behavior towards consumers were for example offering the same service at two different rates, which happened most often in the realty and hospitality sectors. The inspection authority performed a total of 447 checks in the first half of this year. Nearly 200 offences were registered, with the total fines for that period approaching one million Czech crowns.
Police in the northern town of Varnsdorf are gearing up for another anti-Romany protest over the weekend. Over 300 people have confirmed participation on Facebook. In an effort to diffuse growing ethnic tension the local authorities have called a public debate on the problems behind the wave of anti-Romany sentiment.
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