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May 27, 2022



Analysis: Police in Ostrava intentionally failed to protect anti-racist demonstration

Prague, 1.10.2013 2:27, (ROMEA)
Ostrava-South, Zábřeh quarter, SNP Square, demonstration against racism on 27 September 2013. In the foreground is Antonie Burianská of Vítkov, who is running for the lower house on the candidate list of the Green Party. Immediately behind her stands Imrich Horvát, a youth activist from Ostrava, and to his right is Ivanka Mariposa Čonková, a well-known Romani activist who is full of courage and spirit. (Photo:  František Kostlán)
Ostrava-South, Zábřeh quarter, SNP Square, demonstration against racism on 27 September 2013. In the foreground is Antonie Burianská of Vítkov, who is running for the lower house on the candidate list of the Green Party. Immediately behind her stands Imrich Horvát, a youth activist from Ostrava, and to his right is Ivanka Mariposa Čonková, a well-known Romani activist who is full of courage and spirit. (Photo: František Kostlán)

I set out for Ostrava last Thursday and stayed there until early Saturday evening. On Thursday the 11th annual "Stop Drugs!" event for children and youth was convened by the Life Together association's community center in Hrušov, and the children there spent a pleasant afternoon of contests, dancing, games and songs, a special event in the stereotypical life of the ghetto.

That day there were no indications that two racist demonstrations were on the horizon in the town and in the region. I spent Thursday and Friday night at the home of a friend in a different ghetto, this one in the Přívoz quarter.

My friend is a single mother of several children, some of whom are either already adult or almost so. Other friends of hers who live across the street came to her home to chat.

These people are brilliant, and despite the great distance I must travel from Prague to visit them, I do so gladly and relatively often. Both families have known one another a long time because, until recently, they were neighbors on nearby Přednádraží Street, before they were evicted by the enterprising spirit of some local scoundrels and the indifference of the municipal department and town hall to their fates.   

Let's block the "businessmen" too

On Friday, reinforcements arrived from the "Let's Block the Marches!" (Blokujeme!) initiative led by Ivanka Mariposa, a physically small person with a lot of courage and spirit. At the Life Together (Vzájemné soužití) offices, in addition to our other acquaintances and friends, we unexpectedly encountered some Romani pseudo-businessmen who operate or own apartment buildings and residential hotels in the ghettos.

These are people who have no hesitation about preying on their own, including their own relatives, in order to make as much money as possible without lifting a finger. In addition to other matters, they are the people who collect money from the usurious rents they charge at the residential hotels, where they offer tenants medieval-level accommodations.

These landlords collect up to CZK 4 500 per month per tenant (last year it was about CZK 1 000 less). They collect this from people who live together in one standard-sized room, and from my own personal experience in the years I have been writing about this issue, I know that one of those rooms usually houses between five to eight people.

This means that for one such room, these "businessmen" receive up to around CZK 30 000 per month. They are also preying on the rest of us, the taxpayers, because some of that rent is paid by these impoverished people (and not just Romani ones) from their welfare, specifically, their housing benefit. 

Get out of here

One of these landlords (there are so many of them there that his name is not important) has been doing his best, more than once, to dissuade us from holding events against the neo-Nazis in Ostrava, and at this meeting he did it in his own inimitable way:  "Get out of here, no one wants you here... None of the Romani people in Ostrava want you to convene a demonstration here... Let's go visit the Roma together and if we can find even one who agrees with you, then I'll let you be... No actions will succeed here, because when I give the order, then none of the Roma will go there... I'm the one who decides everything here in Ostrava ...."

This man didn't realize it, but listening to him was basically a lot of fun - his demagoguery achieved such unusual dimensions and forms as to be amusing, something like the constant pissing contests between our leading politicians here. Mr Kalousek and Mr Zaorálek would have been proud of him.  

Silent agreement

Why do these self-appointed Romani leaders not want protests in their town against those who would prefer to imprison all Romani people in concentration camps? The reason was explained to us by other Romani residents, those who decidedly do not believe themselves to be the vassals of these residential hotel operators and owners.

These independent Romani residents are convinced that the "businessmen" have concluded a silent agreement with the municipal department governments, the police, and the town hall. That agreement allegedly consists of the fact that these parties will grant each others' wishes whenever they can. 

Are the residential hotels half-empty? No problem! The municipal department, or the private property owners affiliated with it, can deprive several Romani families of their housing (for example, on Přednádraží Street), and they won't know where to turn until the moment a messenger is sent to them (from one of the town's Romani coordinators, for example) to tell them there is room in this or that residential hotel and they should go there.

They go there because no one else wants them. They are easy victims, and they represent a more than easy profit. 

Does it seem too much to presume that, thanks to this part of the "silent agreement", both parties get the money they want? In any event the most impoverished have less money, because for this rental usury both they and the taxpayers are paying more than they would for normal housing.  

What about the police? Allegedly, they sometimes cut these modern slaveholders (the operators of the residential hotels) some slack over their various illegal practices. 

In return, the landlords allegedly undertake everything the police ask when it comes to the Romani community, including restricting the personal freedoms of their tenants. This goes both for individuals and for groups participating in demonstrations.

The police do not want Romani people and their advocates demonstrating against the racists, because it is much easier for them when they do not - they don't have to separate two opposing camps and may only have to intervene against one of them. The police are not concerned about protecting the constitutional right to freedom of speech and those above them don't care about it either - but they are concerned that they cannot handle such situations. 

Police get what they ask for

What most of the Romani people in Ostrava believe is true about the police was thoroughly demonstrated last Friday afternoon at our properly announced, textbook example of an assembly. We were not demonstrating by ourselves - the event had been organized by the Ostrava branch of ProAlt and was attended by people from the Ostrava cell of the Green Party, by several young Roma from the ghettos, and by people from Brno.   

About 150 - 200 meters away from the place where a DSSS rally was to start, 30 of us were standing at our properly announced location and speaking through a megaphone. We had initiallly wanted to remain near the public transportation stop, but the police convinced the convener of the assembly to have us stand behind a low wall, ostensibly because we could be better defended from any eventual attacks there. 

Unfortunately, the exact opposite happened. The police officers evidently instructed us to go there because we would be even more exposed to attacks from the people arriving early for the Nazi event, who stopped by our location to subject us to their bile.

These people shouted racist, vulgar epithets at us, would not let us verbally respond, and were aggressive. Several of them came quite close to us physically and began shouting and swearing at us.

One person from ProAlt was verbally assaulted several times in close proximity by someone calling him "trash". The only reason physical violence didn't break out was because I stood beside him so the aggressor was facing two people, not one.

When we tried to use our megaphone to drown out the insults, even more neo-Nazis came over and, standing in our faces, started shouting their hateful drivel at us at full volume. I took up the megaphone, introduced myself as from the ROMEA association, and was verbally assaulted by a drunken idiot who fixated on me and yelled, "Kostlán, you are a black racist and ROMEA is the most racist website that has ever existed."  

The racists went quiet only when Mariposa began to argue to them that on the basis of their verbal assaults they were antigypsyists, and that antigypysism is anti-Romani racism. They would not let her finish speaking. 

Because we were surrounded on two sides by the low wall I mentioned earlier, we found ourselves surrounded by both the Nazis and the so-called "ordinary people" shouting the same crap as the Holocaust advocates. In the end, some buffoon from the local municipality (reportedly a vice-mayor) arrived and also began shouting at us, telling us that we were provocateurs, that we were offending local people, and that he had only permitted us to hold our event because he  hadn't known before who we were.  

What about the police? I went to the police officers twice during all of this to ask them to take action as they were supposed to and to protect us as they had promised.

The official convener of the event also went to them with the same request, and... nothing. The only thing the officers from the police anti-conflict team were capable of doing (and no other police officers were there) was to approach the racists during the two times they seemed on the brink of physically assaulting us and ask them to move at least one or two meters back.

If President Zeman had been in Ostrava that day, they definitely would have done their best to pacify anyone who dared to so much as whistle at him (as has already happened once). However, in our case, we evidently were just some kind of inferior species, vaguely reminiscent of human beings, whose rights the police did not have to take into consideration.

In a normal country, criminal charges would have long since been filed against the police officers present and they would have been at risk of being fired, at a minimum. In this country there is no point in undertaking such an action, which means we evidently are not living in a normal country. 

Ultimately, the police officers and the racists were able to allow the Czech Constitution and the laws to be violated because there were not very many of us protesting. The police had gotten what they wanted from some of the Romani pseudo-businessmen in that regard.

So, dear police officers, here it is. We haven't yet done this, but next time we will do our best to make sure as many Romani people are at the scene of our protest, from Ostrava and from everywhere else.

The silent agreement is over, and, dear "leaders", so is the easy time you have had of it in Ostrava so far. Now you have to show what your true colors are.

I am really curious to see what happens next. Make no mistake, if there won't be more than a thousand of us next time, or the time after, then there will be in six months' time, or maybe a year - you'll see.

Vandas the fencepost

Saturday in Vítkov surprised me. After the wild time in Ostrava I expected things to be even wilder there.

The great leader of the DSSS, Vandas, gave his speech to an empty square, or rather, to a few of our people from the "Let's Block the Marches!" initiative, led by Mariposa, who stood directly in front of him. The rest of the initiative stood with the local Romani residents on the square across the street. 

There were almost 40 of us altogether, and Vandas was as isolated as a fencepost. Of the few people who had come there with him, most remained seated in their vehicle, and no locals turned out for him.

Last time about 100 locals had marched there together with the neo-Nazi "Czech Lions" (Českými lvi), a breakaway faction of the DSSS. Of course, last time those locals were reasonable people, and we walked with some of them at the end of their parade and discussed things with them - we even managed to listen to one another. 

The people who turned out last time were definitely not racists, and they had no idea who the "Czech Lions" even were. Maybe that is why Vandas has failed with his electoral muck there now.

There is a chance we may even see the creation of something we have agreed on with several people from Vítkov:  A shared platform where people can safely tell each other what bothers them about one another and put things in order, together.  

Oh, the "journalists"

Above I had to put the term "businessman" in scare quotes, and now I have to do the same with the term "journalist". This has to do with a certain Tomáš Pustek, who has written an article published by the dailies in Hlučín and Opava which sounds as if he were a full-fledged DSSS member.

Pustek's piece used the following phrases:

• One young Romani man "delivered Tomáš Vandas something of a direct threat when responding to his statement that the DSSS is not a hotbed of extremists. 'What about Ostrava? They should come to your house and set it on fire! Then you'll know what we have to live with,' the youth shouted before turning to his friends and giving them a short, proud smile." 
• "Shouts like 'Brutes!' could be head from the group of Romani people standing along the side of the square."
• "A smaller, particularly forceful Romani woman let go at him using vulgar expressions and unconscionably using the familiar form of address with everyone - as all of her fellow-travelers at the rally did."  
• "None of the Romani people's many objections fell on fertile ground. When they accused the DSSS of having no business in Vítkov, as they are not locals, they were immediately silenced when told that many of the most vocal crybabies and opponents fighting by their side also didn't have anything to do with Vítkov, as they later recognized. One local resident shared with us his theory of what these 'foreign' opponents were doing there:  'I've heard they're normally paid to travel around the country and intentionally disrupt these events'."
• "Despite all of the flaming emotions and loud exchanges of opinion, the entire event took place without brawls or violence. Even though it sometimes looked like something might kick off, everyone's fists stayed down and their knives stayed in their pockets. Some of the Romani people and the 'whites' even shook hands at the end." 

The only words with any real meaning in all of this verbiage are the conjunctions and prepositions. For example, there were 30 local Romani people at this event, and the number of us who came from elsewhere was less than 10. 

No one swore at the most senior Romani woman present, nor did anyone address her impolitely - of the Romani people present, none spoke familiarly to anyone else unless they knew each other already. The swear word "brutes" was not shouted by anyone from either side, nor were any others.

People from both sides discussed things with one another peacefully - almost too peacefully for my taste. We might almost think that Vandas was angry about the willingness of the Romani people to hold a discussion with him. 

After all, if he had been subjected to some kind of bombardment, he could at least have turned it into publicity, but this? In my opinion, the Deník daily should fire Pustek - he's no journalist, just a little Czech Goebbels who is not even bothering to conceal his hatred of Romani people. 

František Kostlán, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Demonstrace, Neo-Nazism, Policie, Racism, Czech republic, Events, Extremism, Facism, news, Opava, Roma, Šikana


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