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Analysis: Street violence committed by "ordinary people" with right-wing extremists bothers Czech public

České Budějovice/Prague, 9.7.2013 20:27, (ROMEA)
On 29 June 2013 about 500 people assembled on Přemysl Otakar II Square in České Budějovice. Among those gathered were several small groups of neo-Nazis who clearly expressed their sympathies for a totalitarian regime. (PHOTO:  ČTK)
On 29 June 2013 about 500 people assembled on Přemysl Otakar II Square in České Budějovice. Among those gathered were several small groups of neo-Nazis who clearly expressed their sympathies for a totalitarian regime. (PHOTO: ČTK)

The street violence sparked by right-wing extremists recently in the towns of Duchov and now twice in České Budějovice is starting to bother more people besides members of the Romani community and their supporters. The recent violence in České Budějovice followed a pattern similar to that of other towns, where any excuse has been enough to kick off crusades through the streets. 

The coexistence problems in both of these towns have not been excessive and seem to have been even calmer than average. Neither the recent beating of a "white" married couple in Duchcov by several Romani people, which was truly inexcusable and repugnant, nor the argument and subsequent conflict on a playground in České Budějovice seem to have been the real reason for these anti-Romani actions.

According to most public opinion, neither of these incidents should have been a reason for ordinary people to demonstrate together with neo-Nazis and other extremists. Let's take a closer look at the example of České Budějovice.

At the Máj housing estate there are a total of 22 000 inhabitants, of whom less than 400 are Romani people living on V. Volf Street. This is not considered a socially excluded locality.

Normal relations

Jiří Honiss, a native of České Budějovice who recently moved away from V. Volf Street, lived next door to Romani neighbors there for roughly three years. In the building where he lived there were about three Romani groups.

"I'd call the relations normal, we greeted each other when we met in the corridors or the elevator and had normal conversations. Whenever I caught a glimpse of their apartment interiors through an open door, everything was nice and tidy. The shared areas of the building deserved more care from all of the residents," Honiss told news server

Honiss said there were problems at the housing estate, but they were ordinary ones like anywhere else. He had the greatest difficulties with some Romani adolescents:  "I suspected they had stolen some valves and that they were poking around in the storage units in the basement, but I had no concerns about safety at Máj. I did my best to find housing elsewhere primarily because I didn't like living at a prefab housing estate and renting. The fact that more socially vulnerable people, and not just Romani ones, live all together there, compared to other neighborhoods in town, also played a role in my decision."

Honiss said he was surprised that ordinary people in České Budějovice have been demonstrating together with the neo-Nazis:  "Not only did it shock me, but I couldn't figure out what those people were complaining about when it came to Máj. Were they just expressing their dissatisfaction, or did they want to physically punish the Roma? It's frightening to imagine how far that mob of demonstrators might have gone if the police hadn't stopped them."

Alice Krátká, who used to work with Romani families last year in České Budějovice, has similar views:  "I visited some families regularly and got to know them better. I have to say that personally I never had any problems with them, although I might say differently if I had been living on V. Volf Street, which is noisy. I used to talk with them, I did my best to listen to them and understand their complaints, primarily when it came to work. I know that for them it takes a superhuman effort to find work. They are rejected the moment they show up in person - even if work has been promised on the phone, suddenly it doesn't exist anymore." 

Krátká said is not a matter of course for all unemployed Romani people to seek work, however. "Some of them don't even even try, since the system basically offers them that option, which I naturally don't like. However, even that, in my opinion, is no reason for militant radicals and neo-Nazis to come to Budějovice - they are not interested in solving problems at the Máj housing estate. There is no reason, in my view, for people to demonstrate with them against the Roma," Krátká told news server

Violence is no solution

Renáta Veselá, who has lived at Máj for 16 years, thought nothing else could surprise her there anymore - that is, until these last two Saturdays.  "I was truly afraid, and today my fear has not subsided... Coexistence with the Roma is not easy, but violence is not the way to solve it," she told news server Dení

Some locals say integration with the Romani minority has been neglected. "At that housing estate the town hall totally neglected integration for the minority Romani group. Instead of equal opportunities, it comes forward with projects like school classes only for Roma, which naturally does not bring these groups any closer together. Furthermore, the police have underestimated petty conflicts on both sides, i.e., also on the majority-society side. There are no activities here that all of the Máj residents might do together, like children's days, for example, or football matches. All of this leads to a certain level of mutual grudges and xenophobia," resident Pavel Fousek told the daily Právo.

Fousek went on to say the housing estate should have its own municipal police force and warned that the part of the housing estate where he lives doesn't have a problem with Romani residents, but with drug addicts and drug dealers. "I called the municipal police several times about it, and the apartment cooperative wants to either buy or lease the parking lot where those people stand around, but no one has resolved the situation," he said.

Martina Mikelová, who participated last Saturday afternoon in a debate at the Máj housing estate along with other members of her community over whether another melée might take place on the streets, does not hide the fact that she has been in fear for her life. "Many of the people I know left on the weekend to visit their relatives, only the people who didn't have anywhere to go stayed here," she said.

Mikelová said no one will greet her now when she goes to the grocery store. "Relations have really deteriorated here now, but why? I'm not saying all our people are saints, not at all, but many whites live on welfare or make a mess around here too. I'm afraid to go home from work in the evening. How am I supposed to explain what is going on here to my children?"

No work

Simon Farkaš (age 30) has three children and is a skilled laborer doing his best to feed his family, but he is momentarily out of work. In his view, that situation is the entire cause of the difficulties with Romani people.

Farkaš alleges that the town hall has told him there is not enough work available for white people, to say nothing of work for blacks. "When I arrive somewhere and tell them I'm a skilled laborer, they look at me as if I'm a UFO. When I telephone, they offer me work, and when I come in person, they make some excuse, saying they just filled the position. No one wants a Gypsy," Farkaš explained to news server

"Gypsies have no money, so they start stealing and committing criminal activity. It's a vicious circle and instead of working together, demonstrating for work, we are all but murdering one another here. What are we supposed to do when we have no work?" Farkaš asks, shaking his head.

The father of three pointed out that many Romani families at the Máj housing estate are grappling with this problem. However, he also recognizes that there are other difficulties at the housing estate.

Romani people reportedly gather in front of their buildings talking loudly while their children run around shouting. "That's just how we are. If someone is going to let hundreds of Romani people live at one housing estate today, then he shouldn't be surprised if it's noisy, if people meet in front of the buildings, and if there are difficulties. If someone wants to resolve this, there is only one way - redistribute the Romani residents to different parts of town," Farkaš said.

Last Saturday Farkaš followed the events in front of the buildings on V. Volf Street with other Romani residents. When he saw people shouting racist slogans, he couldn't believe what he was hearing.

"Racism has always been here, is here, and will be here, but for ordinary neighbors to go against us, shouting and throwing rocks at the cops as well as at the children, that is something I have never experienced before. I've never seen anything like it. We do our best to simply avoid conflicts because they don't contribute anything, they just make the situation worse. It's better to talk about how to resolve things, not to throw rocks," Farkaš believes, adding that anyone who wants to debate should have no fear of coming to the Romani part of town.

Prior to last Saturday's demonstration the Romani residents met on the streets with a microphone and anyone who wanted to could voice his or her opinion. Several people participated who are bothered by the Romani residents' behavior at the housing estate.

Against violence

Another assembly is being planned for this coming Friday in České Budějovice. This time people against violence will meet on Přemysl Otakar II. Square.

According to organizer Radka Doležalová, the aim of the gathering is to show how many people in town want to say out loud that violence has no place there. "This isn't just about violence by extremists, but also about violence committed by Romani people, for example. We want to show that violence is not the franchise of a certain ethnicity and that it does not belong in our town," Doležalová explained.

People will be able to discuss problems of coexistence at the Máj housing estate today (Tuesday, 9 July 2013) at 17:00 in the sports arena in České Budějovice. The mayor says he expects the atmosphere of the negotiations to be harsh, so this first meeting with the citizens on this topic may not result in specific proposals for solutions.   

František Kostlán, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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České Budějovice, Demonstrace, Extremism, Násilí, Násilí z nenávisti, Neo-Nazism, Racism, Roma, Xenophobia


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