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Brawl in Ředhošt “not about racism”

Ředhošť, 24.6.2010 17:18, (ROMEA)

On 28 May 2010, as a result of previous events, a brawl took place in the village of Ředhošt involving a large number of people. The Roma and the ethnic Czechs involved are now blaming one another for the incident. The Roma most frequently mention that they have long been the target of racist insults and invective from the ethnic Czechs, while the ethnic Czechs claim it was the Roma who made racist statements before the brawl. The ethnic Czechs also say one particular Romani youth has been going on a rampage in the village for some time with impunity, sometimes together with friends.

The brawl itself took place in front of one of the two local pubs, which are located next to one another. The Roma were having a party at home in a building adjacent to one of the pubs; in the second pub, about 40 meters away, ethnic Czechs were celebrating the birth of a child. The brawl started in the first pub. At the time, only four men were in there. A neighbor of one of the men came over from the other pub to buy him a drink at the same time that two Romani youths came to the pub for beer. One was the youth who has been accused by his white neighbors of causing trouble.

The local ethnic Czechs have taken the mayor to task for not proposing specific measures regarding the co-existence of the Roma with other residents. They also say police did not intervene as they should have at the scene. The two Romani youths are the only ones to have been charged with rioting for their public fighting, which caused the subsequent brawl.

The Roma community’s version of events

Local Roma say there is no way 40 of them could have been involved in the brawl, as the ethnic Czechs claim, because there aren’t that many Roma in the town. Three Romani families live there; altogether, including the out-of-town Roma who were there for the party, there were probably a total of 32 people, 22 of them adults. Only some of the adults participated in the brawl; the Roma we interviewed agreed independently of one another that a maximum of 15 adults and a few older children were involved. The Roma estimate that between 30 and 40 gadje (non-Roma) were involved.

“We were celebrating my son-in-law’s birthday. My younger brother had been going down to that pub for beer all day, and up until 11 o’clock there was no problem. At 11 my son and his friend went there for beer and the conflict happened,” says the father of a Romani family who lived in the building adjacent to one of the pubs. The friend involved was the same Romani youth who has been labeled a troublemaker. At the time of the conflict he was 16. He describes the situation as follows:

“We went into the pub quietly and greeted them politely. One of the villagers who was about 30 years old stood up and started to call after me: ‘Get out of here you black swine. We’re not going to give you any beer, it’s all for us.’ He was trying to be a hotshot. The thing is, I know these people, when they’re sober we have normal conversations. I said: ‘Hey, forget it - I don’t want to fight with you. Have a seat, drink your beer.’ He repeated his racist insults, then pushed me and tried to hit me. I dodged the swing and pushed him back. I wanted to leave because I was afraid - there were more people who might attack us there. I said to the one who was swearing at me: ‘Hey, you’re a big shot when you have all these people with you, why don’t we take this outside and settle it.” He agreed, and the moment we got outside, he pushed me, shouted ‘Shut up you black swine’ again and tried to deck me. I dodged again and punched him. A girl was walking by and she started yelling in front of the other pub ‘Come out, they’re beating up Jarda!’ At least 20 people rushed out of the other pub and headed for us. There were probably about 35 white people involved in the brawl. I was glad the Roma from the party showed up - they rescued me.”

According to members of the Roma community who were involved, the Roma did not rush away from their own party to the scene of the conflict until drunkards from the other pub started to beat up an older Romani woman and her daughter-in-law. “My grandchildren woke me up saying: ‘Grandma, go see what’s going on, something has happened.’ So my daughter-in-law and I went down there, and when I saw they were fighting I started yelling at them to knock it off. Some of them then attacked us,” the older Romani woman said when asked to explain why so many Roma rushed out at once in front of the pub. This is confirmed by the other Romani youth who had originally gone for the beer: “I asked the lady who owns the pub for some beer. She said no and that she was going to call the police. When I left the pub I saw them beating up a younger and an older woman who were lying on the ground.”

The Roma say the conflict was the culmination of long-term verbal and physical attacks against them by ethnic Czechs. The Romani youth described a previous incident: “Once a drunken person from the next village was driving his Trabant down the road. When I walked past him he hopped out of the car, slapped my face, and drove off.” According to his father, similar things have happened more than once. He also believes his son has been unfairly accused by others of stealing a mobile phone.

“I’ve lived here six years and I know about 10 people here. If people don’t respond to my greetings, I stop saying hello. I told my children that: If someone doesn’t respond to your greeting, you don’t have to greet them. Are the others going to lord it over us because we’re black? That’s not going to work. Why do they tell us we should move to India? We’re Czechs just like they are, we were born here,” the father said.

The youth concerned admits he has been in several fights before, but in his view they were normal scuffles, the sort young people usually have. “We meet up an hour later, say ‘Sorry, dude,’ and everything’s fine,” he said.

The other side

According to local ethnic Czechs, the 16-year-old Romani youth concerned has been “raising hell” in the village for some time. “He walked down the middle of the road and wouldn’t get out of the way when a car wanted to pass, even though it was honking at him. He attacked the driver and kicked his car,” a resident of Ředhošt’ told news server Romea.cz. Local ethnic Czechs believe the youth was justifiably suspected of stealing the mobile phone and is constantly provoking conflict. Some residents said independently of one another that they suspect him of drug use, a charge he rejects.

Ethnic Czechs also allege the Roma have brought items in for salvage that are not scrap metal, that they tried to take apart a neighbor’s older, somewhat damaged fence to use for firewood, etc. Roma have also allegedly “said stupid things, like: ‘Gadje, keep making money so we can get our welfare.”

The ethnic Czechs claim the Roma started the brawl and that what instigated the first argument was that the Romani youth addressed one of the guests in the pub as “You white swine.” The father of the youth, who has been charged for rioting along with his friend, says that remark was not racist. “He was just responding to what the gadje said. If someone called you a black swine and told you to move out of your own country you might respond the same way.”

Various statements given by local ethnic Czechs say the brawl involved 35-45 Roma, who outnumbered the pub guests from the beginning. Alena Romová, spokesperson for the Litoměřice police, told news server Romea.cz it was too early to say how many assailants from each side had been involved, as the scene included onlookers as well as brawlers. “The investigation is continuing, it’s not closed yet,” she said. One ethnic Czech said the father of the Romani youth did not show up until the brawl was over: “He brought a baseball bat to settle the score with though, so he shouldn’t pretend he is God-only-knows how decent.”

Some of the ethnic Czechs have now founded a civic association for the protection of health and property which aims to improve co-existence in Ředhošt’ through “preventive” means or efforts at reaching agreements. At the first meeting of the association its members said they felt threatened and feared for their lives because they were constantly receiving threats from some of the Roma. They blamed the mayor for doing nothing and had many comments to make about the laws. They also claimed the state takes a different approach toward members of the majority society than it does toward the Roma. They were unhappy with the police who had come to the scene of the conflict, primarily because they had not asked the Roma to show their identity cards. They were also upset that the police had not accepted their motions to file criminal charges. Police officers explained why: Criminal charges had already been filed in the matter and the proceedings would take only one such complaint into consideration, so it was unnecessary to “collect” more complaints.

The municipality meets

The brawl eventually resulted in a meeting of the town council of Mšené-lázně, which administers Ředhošť. Several dozen citizens attended, as did representatives of the Litoměřice police. Mayor Josef Bíža said at the meeting that the municipality had no other option than to rely on the police. He added that the council was considering introducing a closed-circuit camera system and establishing a municipal police force, but that both of those would cost quite a bit of money and the council would have to consider whether and how to make such arrangements.

Bíža then read aloud a letter from one of the local cottagers, Pavel Leitimer, who demanded, among other things, daily monitoring of the Roma by the Czech Police as to whether they were all properly registered permanent residents and whether they were upholding hygiene regulations. “Should there be violations, take measures to evict them,” wrote the cottager, who went on to list other demands, including daily monitoring of whether the Roma are selling or using narcotics and daily monitoring of their behavior in the community (see the letter below).

At the meeting, the mayor responded to the letter as follows: “If we continue along Mr Leitimer’s lines, we’ll be returning to the year 1934.”

During the next meeting of the town council with citizens from Ředhošt’ and neighboring villages, all of the above allegations were repeated. The father of the Romani family concerned also spoke; he and his family then left because of the previous attacks that had been made against them. One of the local non-Roma even started yelling at the Roma during the meeting: “Go back to India, that’s where you belong!” The same person later shouted other racist slogans and commentary. Participant Jiří Nováček did not even want to let the Romani man finish speaking – in his view, he had spoken for too long and the others needed to be given the opportunity to respond to his claims. Earlier in the meeting, given the extraordinary circumstances, the mayor had asked the council to vote on a motion to suspend the usual time limits on individual interventions, and they had suspended them. The mayor assured Nováček he would have as much time as wished to respond to the Romani father’s speech.

Some of the non-Roma had taken it upon themselves to invite the Workers’ Social Justice Party (Dělnická strana sociální spravedlnosti - DSSS) to Ředhošt’. No one espoused this tacitc at the council meeting and some of those present, including the founders of the civic association, distanced themselves from such an invitation. The DSSS had sent seven members of its “civic patrols” to the village, which are essentially the former “Protection Corps” of the (now banned) Workers’ Party. Two weeks later the DSSS staged another event in Ředhost’ during which 30-40 of their members held a demonstration on the square and then walked through the village.

A police officer warned the town council against citizens calling on the DSSS: “There are dozens of communities like Ředhošť. People don’t get along everywhere - there are problems everywhere, because this is a big district with a diverse population. There are other minorities turning up here, such as the Mongolians. Everyone has to get used to one another. On Saturday a larger group of people are coming here. For us this is much more complicated, because we hope to God we won’t have Janov 2 on our hands. You all know what happened there. Sometimes these events are artificially provoked so certain groups can get publicity. You should always consider what will be the lesser evil for the municipality.” In response to a question he then said an intervention of the sort that would have to take place in Ředhošt because of the extremists could cost up to several hundreds of thousands of crowns.

This council meeting took place in a calm atmosphere that was only mildly agitated, not hysterical or tense as one might imagine from reading the subsequent media reports. Two ethnic Czechs even stood up for the Roma, describing good experiences they had had with them and reminding those gathered that the problem wasn’t a racial one – there is more than one disorderly person in the village, and some of them are ethnic Czechs.

Improving co-existence, conflict prevention

Jiří Nováček of the civic association for the protection of health and property asked during the meeting whether the co-existence of Roma and other residents could not be resolved “preventively” with the help of the municipality or a civic association. After the meeting, news server Romea.cz asked him whether Roma would be brought into the association to improve communication. Nováček said he had considered it but did not know whom to approach. “You can see yourselves this is not a racial problem as some of the neighbors claim” one of the local residents said. The ROMEA association offered to help find appropriate people and Mr Nováček said he would be glad to make use of them.

The case has been treated by the media at the usual superficial level: The Litoměřice daily wrote a completely one-sided article, never asking the Roma involved for their opinion. The father of the Romani family concerned was determined not to take such treatment lying down and visited their offices in person, where he told the author: “Do you know what kind of a problem you’ve caused? If something happens to my family or my property, you’ll be paying me for it. You’ve put a noose around my neck.” The author included quotes from Romani residents in her follow-up article.

A letter from a cottager to the municipality

Re: Request for immediate steps to be taken regarding racist speeches by persons of Romani origin in the village of Ředhošť.

Dear members of the municipality and council,

Through the media (Czech Television, the press) and through members of my own family I have been informed about the violence committed by dozens of Roma against the residents of the village of Ředhošť, including my relatives. For no reason whatsoever, our citizens were subjected to kicks, beaten with equipment handles, sworn at and threatened with death by a gang of inadaptable criminals. The Roma concerned publicly repeatedly called all of us Czechs white swine in front of the citizens of the village of Ředhošť and the Czech Police, who instead of intervening harshly agains the criminals, merely observed the lynching of those who were celebrating the birth of a child. Esteemed council members, the Roma concerned unequivocally meant these insults for you as well. The Roma repeatedly shouted that the white swine should get on with making money so they could continue to get money from the state. This was and is a gross racist attack intended to suppress the rights and freedoms of the citizens of the Czech Republic which directly contravenes our Constitution and laws. You are no doubt well aware that a great deal of shoplifting has occurred in the village since these Roma moved here, and you are doubtless well aware that the residents of the village of Ředhošť are afraid to go outside, because young Roma, evidently on drugs, constantly provoke incidents, threatening to kill the citizens again and again. Esteemed council members, this is why I am demanding an immediate intervention to protect the residents of the illage of Ředhošť, in particular by providing the following:

Daily monitoring by the Czech Police as to whether all Roma are properly registered as permanent residents, checks of their identification and other essentials;

Daily monitoring as to whether these Roma are upholding hygiene regulations, and measures to evict them should they be found in violation of those regulations;

Daily monitoring as to whether they are selling or using narcotics;

Daily monitoring of the behavior of Roma in the village, i.e., in restaurants and public spaces.

Using the means established by law, prevent this threat to the life and health of all persons living in Ředhošt and the destruction and theft of their property. Your obligation, esteemed council members, is to protect the lives and health of all decent people, not the crooks, criminals and racists… . You are all personally liable for the protection of those living in Ředhošt, so I am demanding you immediately take a harsh course of action against the inadaptable racists who are publicly suppressing the rights and freedoms of Czech citizens, including your own. I assume you have already initiated criminal proceedings against the perpetrators of these racially motivated crimes and violence, as the law requires. I also assume you have complained to the Inspection Authority of the Czech Interior Ministry regarding the intervening police officers for their dilatoriness and inadequate practices. I also presume I will hear from you shortly as to what measures you have adopted.

Sincerely,

Ing. Pavel Leitimer Csc., Prague.

František Kostlán, Gwendolyn Albert, František Kostlán, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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