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Commentary: Czech Facebook and the Vítkov arson sentences

Prague, 23.10.2010 10:17, (ROMEA)

The responses to the Vítkov verdict and the length of the sentences have been no surprise. Those who agree with them find them justified, and those who disagree question them. In addition to legitimate opinions questioning the length of the sentencing in relation to the crime in question, there are also opinions (primarily on the internet) that repeat outright inventions, lies and stereotypes about the victims ad infinitum.

Such repetition evidently helps some people avoid the painful recognition that we are capable of the worst sort of atrocities, including setting an entire family on fire. This applies to everyone who, while not approving of the atrocities, attempts to de facto justify them by referring to the "wrongdoing of Gypsies" as a whole. They are led to this by anti-Gypsyism, which in the Czech Republic is based on our classic enviousness. In the course of their generalizations, the anti-Gypsyists often spread lies and slander about how much the Roma have even though they don't work. They love to give examples from the media of Roma involved in crime. They don't care that white people commit the same crimes as well, because it is not the crimes that bother them - it's the "Gypsies". Their interlocutors in these internet discussions include, of course, neo-Nazis, racists, and sociopaths incapable of empathy. It is symptomatic that all of these discussants refer to the racist arsonists as "the Vítkov Guys".

There is, however, a hopeful sign. Average, reasonable people have started participating in these discussions more and more often. These people don't let the loudmouths get away with their usual tricks and seem to feel a stronger need to speak up than before.

All of this is playing itself out on the Facebook page "I disagree with the sentences for the Vítkov Guys", or during Facebook "events" such as the one called "We demand the same punishment for Natálka's parents in the Vítkov case!“

"Parents who leave their own child behind to burn do not deserve millions of crowns, but prison." This is the demand of Petra Ramešová, František Fanz and Bára Pertlová, the founders of the Facebook "event" entitled "We demand the same punishment for Natálka's parents in the Vítkov case!“ All three, and they are not alone, are obviously committing the crime of libel, but more importantly, they are cynically lying in order to malign Roma and justify the attempted burning to death of a Roma family.

The testimony given by Natálka's parents and grandparents in court differed from one another in some details, but there are several possible reasons for that: The commotion of the fire itself, the fact that these events occurred more than a year ago, and other natural reasons. Under no circumstances did their testimony or that of anyone else lead to the conclusion that they had "left their child behind to burn". On the contrary, it was they who carried Natálka out of the fire. There is also no indication, as some allege, that they were not home during the attack but in the pub, or that they had stolen goods at home which they cared about more than their own child. This is all pure defamation invented by people who hate Roma as a whole. Most of them present their opinions anonymously.

The behavior of these anti-Gypsyists, neo-Nazis and racists leads to social tensions and violence like the arsons and other violent attacks committed against Roma. The attempted murder in Vítkov was just one of many. From a media point of view, it has shown us just the tip of the iceberg of the anti-Roma crusade. Where it will end, no one knows -and that is why it is good the "Vítkov Guys“ have been convicted by the justice system (their sentences have yet to take effect). Through the court, society has let it be known that anti-Gypsyism, racism, and related violence are completely unacceptable phenomena.

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