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11 deaths in fire, worst such death toll since 1990, met with antigypsyist celebration by Czech Internet

10.8.2020 8:39
Racist commentaries were posted beneath a news item on mainstream news server Novinky.cz on 8 August 2020 about a tragic incident in  Bohumín, Czech Republic, where 11 people, three of them children, died as the result of arson committed on the 11th floor of a prefabricated apartment building.(Collage:  Romea.cz)
Racist commentaries were posted beneath a news item on mainstream news server Novinky.cz on 8 August 2020 about a tragic incident in Bohumín, Czech Republic, where 11 people, three of them children, died as the result of arson committed on the 11th floor of a prefabricated apartment building.(Collage: Romea.cz)

Racist - specifically, antigypsyist - commentaries have been posted beneath Czech-language mainstream news articles reporting on Saturday's tragic events in Bohumín, Czech Republic, where 11 people, three of them children, died in a fire in a prefabricated apartment building on Saturday. Media reports on Sunday said the inicident was arson, and some news servers reported the unconfirmed claims of eyewitnesses to the tragedy that police had arrested a Romani man between the age of 50 and 60 in association with the incident.

The speculation was also reported that all of the victims of the tragedy had been Romani. Yesterday morning, according to the CNN Prima News station, Vice-Mayor Igor Bruzl refuted those assumptions.

"The tenants of the apartment that was set on fire are not Romani. However, allegedly a Romani guy and a Romani woman were also at the party there, and for that reason, most people are claiming a Romani family was involved," local Romani activist Jolana Šmarhovyčová of the Awen Amenca organization told news server Romea.cz.

The police have not stated that they believe the attack was racially motivated, which means the ethnicities of the perpetrators and victims would not be relevant to the case, but some media outlets have reported unconfirmed speculations about the ethnicities of those involved nonetheless. Unverified rumors about the incident circulating online sparked an immediate wave of antigypsyist posts to the commentary sections on, for example, iDNES.cz or news server Novinky.cz, both mainstream outlets, and Czech Interior Minister Jan Hamáček (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD) also tweeted yesterday that police have opened an investigation into a racist article about the incident posted to the fringe website "Vlastenecké noviny" ("Patriotic News").

Michal Janotka, a reporter for CNN Prima News, said the vice-mayor had informed him that "This was not about arguments between neighbors, these were family clashes, conflicts within a family. In the apartment there was likely a party going on, the man who now has this on his conscience is said to have driven into the parking lot and to have probably known very well what he was going to to do."

The alleged perpetrator is said to have taken the elevator to the 11th floor, set the apartment on fire, and calmly left the scene. CNN Prima News reported the vice-mayor as having informed them that "This was not a Romani family".

Šmarhovyčová has investigated at the scene and confirmed the vice-mayor's statement. News server Romea.cz has been informed of the names of those reportedly involved.

"The tenant and her partner were celebrating her birthday and a family argument began. Some people living in adjacent apartment buildings allege it was the brother of her partner who set the apartment on fire - he is not Romani, but he is a person of color. Others are alleging the perpetrator was a Romani man, their neighbor. People are just talking about what they believe or heard," Šmarhovyčová told news server Romea.cz.

"The family of a Romani boy who did die in this fire has absolutely collapsed," the local Romani activist said. The daily Právo has reported that the perpetrator set fire to an apartment where his son was living, and allegedly the perpetrator's ex-wife was also at the party when he set fire to the apartment.

An Internet user going by the name of Josef Kališík posted the following to a discussion beneath a news item about the incident on Novinky.cz: "11 people in one apartment? If that was a cikánská herd, then their death is our good luck. I hope the gentleman who set it on fire keeps his nerve."

Another Internet user posted to that same discussion: "They say the tenants were black as soot even before the fire. They got that apartment from the city and want to turn it into another Chánov. Then they'll complain they have nowhere to live." 

Some news servers reported an eyewitness to the tragedy as saying police had arrested a Romani man between the ages of 50 and 60. Moreover, there was speculation that all of the victims of the blaze were Romani, but those reports have been refuted and what is more, racist motivation apparently did not play a role in the attack.

Another Internet user posting to news server Novinky.cz under the name Petr Hadrbolec excused the attack as follows: "Were they there on a visit, or were 11 people living there? If they were living there, then it was highly likely they were social problems. In that case I am not surprised somebody snapped. It's just a question of time before something like this happens."

The ethnicities of the perpetrator and victims were also important to another contributor to the discussion, who posted: "Maybe the Roma are setting each other on fire. I just hope it wasn't a white guy so those fighting racism aren't given ammunition. BLM extremists will end up running around setting our cars on fire."

Other posts to the discussion condemn and critize news server Novinky.cz for facilitating the discussion beneath the article describing the tragedy. Internet user Petr Kleinwachter posted: "This is exactly the kind of case when I would turn off the discussion. When I read some of these posts, I feel like vomiting. It doesn't matter whether this was about cikány. This is one big HUMAN disaster. It's even worse because children were involved, among other things. Some of you are really disgusting!!!"

Where large amounts of racist commentaries were being posted, news server iDNES.cz decided to turn off its discussion feature for articles reporting on the tragic incident. The blaze broke out Saturday on Nerudova Street in the Nový Bohumín quarter just before 18:00 in an 11th-floor apartment. 

Six people, three of them children, died inside the apartment. Another five people died after jumping out of the window in an effort to flee the flames.

Another 10 people were injured during the blaze, including firefighters and police officers. All indications are that this was arson.

Tomáš Kužel, chief of police for the Moravian-Silesian Region, said one person had been arrested in association with the blaze. News server Denik.cz and iDNES.cz then reported that the arrested person was allegedly a Romani man.

Those media outlets quoted eyewitnesses who mentioned the suspect's ethnicity. "Police arrived within two minutes and arrested a gentleman - a Romani man about 50 years old or older," Denik.cz quoted a female eyewitness to the tragedy as saying.

A male eyewitness told news server iDNES.cz that the motivation for the attack was rumored to be an argument about a woman: "What I know from what I have heard is they say there was a party there and somebody wanted to settle accounts because of a woman. The guy who set it on fire was a Romani man, on the short side. Police officers took him away in handcuffs."

Vice-mayor Bruzl then refuted that allegation saying all indications are that the motivation was an argument within a family and that the family were not Romani. The Bohumín fire is the most tragic to have happened in the Czech Republic since 1990 in terms of the number of people who lost their lives.

In October 2010, nine homeless people died in a fire in Prague. This past January, eight people died in a fire at a home for people living with disabilities in Vejprty (Chomutov district).

Yesterday news server Novinky.cz also blocked discussions beneath its articles reporting on the tragedy. Czech Interior Minister Jan Hamáček (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD) tweeted yesterday that police are investigating a racist article posted to the "Vlastenecké noviny" ("Patriotic News") website for its racist commentary on the incident.

ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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antigypsyism, arson attack, Bohumín, Internet



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