The Czech Republic recently saw an outbreak of tensions between the country’s Romany minority and parts of the majority population. People in the isolated northern Bohemian region of Šluknov began holding anti-Romany rallies to protest a growing crime rate in the region; the government reacted by sending in the police but also by adopting a plan to tackle the issue of Romany exclusion and impoverishment. To discuss these and other issues, Radio Prague spoke to Gwendolyn Albert who for the past 15 years has been working with the Romany advocacy group,
The special Czech police squad for fighting organized crime has warned that ultra-right groupings in the country have been gathering strength and are now better organized and more active than before the 2010 clamp-down on extremism. The Workers Party, banned by a court ruling in 2010, has successfully regrouped into the Workers Party of Social Justice and ultra-right activists are making an all out effort to use the wave of anti-Romany sentiment in the north of the country to their best advantage. So far the public has shown little sign of supporting
Anti-Roma demonstrations held in the northern towns of Varnsdorf and Rumburk on Sunday ended without incident. Rising crime, petty theft and a high unemployment rate have unleashed a wave of anti-Romany sentiment in several towns in the north of the country with people repeatedly taking to the streets to demand action. Public anger in Varnsdorf has now turned mainly against the local administration which is being blamed for failing to deal with the situation. Local protesters took their grievances to Prague on Saturday where they verbally clashed with Roma rights activists and anarchists. Government officials, NGOs and local councils are working to defuse tension and address long-neglected problems but there has so far been little sign of tangible progress.
The head of the anti-organized crime squad of the Czech police Robert Slachta has warned that right-wing extremists in the country are regaining strength following a lull in the wake of intensive police actions in 2010. Speaking in a panel debate on Czech Television Mr. Slachta said there were signs that the ultra-right scene was uniting in a more organized and more sophisticated way than it had in the past. Ultra-right groups and movements suffered a bad blow in 2010 when a court banned the ultra right Workers Party and the Interior Ministry intensified its actions against right-wing extremists in the wake of a number of arson attacks against the Roma minority. At present there are estimated to be around 500 to 600 hard-core right-wing extremists in the country.
Police reinforcements in the north are costing taxpayers close to a
million crowns a day, according to police spokesman Jan Melsa. Riot police
units, psychologists and mediators were sent to the hotspots of racial
tension in the north such as Varnsdorf and Rumburk in mid-August when
extremist groups started organizing anti-Roma marches and demonstrations on
Government officials and local councils are working to defuse tension and address long-neglected problems but there has so far been little sign of tangible progress. The cost of police reinforcements in the area has so far amounted to 30 million crowns - at a time when the cash strapped interior ministry budget can ill afford it.
Anti-Romany demonstrators from the north of the country took their grievances to Prague on Saturday where they verbally clashed with Roma rights activists and anarchists. The two groups demonstrated on Prague’s Palacky Square, held apart by a cordon of riot police as they hurled insults at each other. Demonstrators from Varnsdorf, which has been racked by ethnic unrest, chanted “Send the gypsies to Prague” while Roma-activists and their supporters held up signs reading “neo-Nazis out”. The demonstrations reflect growing tension in the north of the country where a rise in crime and petty theft –together with a high unemployment rate - have unleashed a wave of anti-Romany sentiment.
Anti-Romany demonstrators from the north of the country are preparing to take their grievances to Prague in a renewed call for action. Protesters from Varnsdorf and other towns in the region are to gather on Prague’s Palacky square on Saturday to draw attention to their problems: a deteriorating security situation and rising crime for which they blame the Romany minority. The inhabitants of Varnsdorf have repeatedly called on the town council to resign for failing to deal with the crisis. The Roma minority from the area is planning its own demonstration in Prague against discrimination and social exclusion.
A Roma activist has said the minority needs to establish its own party to influence developments in the regions. Čenek Ružička, chairman of the Romani Holocaust Compensation Committee, said he did not trust existing parties to defend Romany rights and argued that the situation would not improve until the Roma had their own representatives in local and national government. He said this would have to be done step by step, with the initial objective being to form a movement. The proposal comes amidst heightened tension between the majority population and the Roma minority in the north of the country where ethnic Czechs blame the Roma for a rise in crime and petty theft. Anti-Roma demonstrations have been taking place on a weekly basis.
More anti-Roma demonstrations are to be held in the northern towns of Varnsdorf and Rumburk over the weekend. The citizens of Varnsdorf are moreover demanding the resignation of their mayor and the entire town council for having failed to deal with the crisis. The towns have been racked by ethnic unrest in the wake of an influx of Romanies, several incidents of racially motivated crime and a rise in petty theft. The locals are demanding that the town hall takes measures to restore law and order in the streets and some are even calling for an eviction of the newly-arrived members of the Roma minority. Extremist groups have been riding on the wave of anti-Romany sentiment, organizing demonstrations and protest marches every weekend.
A demonstration against local Roma planned for Saturday in the North Bohemian town of Rumburk has been cancelled. The organiser of the event officially withdrew his request for the assembly, saying he had been pressured specifically to do so. An influential local businessman had apparently publicly threatened to ban the organiser from various premises if he went ahead with the protest. The same individual organised the first large demonstration in the area several weeks ago, which later turned into an unplanned march through the town. Plans for a demonstration against the Roma are underway in nearby Varnsdorf. The area has seen a sharp increase in racial tensions over the past month that have spilled over into violence on some occasions.
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