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August 13, 2022



Commentary: Four years for terrorism is a mockery - and others should have been tried

14.1.2019 8:34
Jaromír Balda, accused of committing two terrorist attacks on trains, in court on 7 January 2019.  (PHOTO:  Czech Television)
Jaromír Balda, accused of committing two terrorist attacks on trains, in court on 7 January 2019. (PHOTO: Czech Television)

What is able to drive a Czech pensioner to commit one of the most extreme of crimes, such as terrorism - and do we take terrorism seriously here when it is committed by fanatics who are not Islamists? Jaromíra Balda (age 71) recently attempted to derail two trains with his fellow citizens on board because of his hatred of migrants and Muslims.

The prosecutor is proposing he be imprisoned for four years. Is that sentence too long, or too short?

Fear of a Muslim invasion

Balda was afraid of an "invasion of migrants, and Muslims above all" to the Czech Republic. For that reason, he disseminated fliers in which a fictional jihadi threatened attacks.

The pensioner wanted to spark fear of Muslims among other people here as well. When it seemed to him that people were not afraid enough yet, he felled a tree across a railway line, and repeated that crime less than two months later at a different location.

He left his fliers at both places to create the impression that an Islamist was the perpetrator. While neither train derailed, railway personnel say that was just a matter of pure luck.

Detectives did a good job and Balda was charged with terrorism by the prosecutor. Now, however, that state official is proposing that Balda be sentenced to just four years in prison because of his allegedly reduced sanity.

The law says terrorism is to be punished with a sentence of between five and 15 years. Had anybody been harmed, or had lives been lost (which did not happen thanks to the good luck of the trains not derailing) the sentence would be between 12 and 20 years behind bars.

Media and politicians are also to blame

Let's first examine Balda's fear of Muslims:  Who is it in our country that has been (and still is) sparking unjustified fear of Islam and Muslims? First place in that contest goes to the politicians, led by Czech President Zeman and Czech MP Okamura (but not just them, of course).

If we were to be consistent about this, then they too should be on trial, because their longstanding campaign to this effect has not just divided society, but mainly it has sparked a level of fear and hatred here unlike any we can recall in recent times. Balda is a fanatic follower of Okamura's "Freedom and Direct Democracy" (SPD) party and is a good friend of SPD member Blanka Vaňková, with whom he conducted a telephone conversation full of hatred and racism.

In a recording of that conversation, Balda can be heard to say that he is willing to "go after the migrants" who are "spreading through Europe like worms." "Like one goes after pests, after rats, after vermin in the forest ... As for those pussies that wear those Arabic cowls here, all it takes is a little tiny Molotov cocktail, throw it right beneath their feet until their cunts and their asses catch fire, they'll change their mind about walking around here like that. It's easy, all it takes is two deciliters of gasoline," Balda says in the recording, and the SPD member on the other end of the line does not disagree with him.

Balda then spins a nonsensical theory, saying he would use "sensors" to somehow find out right away at birth whether a child wants to become a professional soldier, a thief, a crook or a mooch. "Pull it out and throw it in the sewer. Mom, you're still young, have another one and make sure it's a proper one," Balda says to the SPD member.

They both then use vulgarities to assess the late Czech President Václav Havel. Vaňková says she would like to blow Prague up because of how the capital voted in the elections.

Practically speaking, what applies to the politicians who have incited this kind of behavior also applies to the different anti-Islam activists and initiatives here, such as Konvička and Co. [a group called "We Don't Want Islam in the Czech Republic"], with whom Zeman made a public appearance of support. The same can be said of several journalists and media outlets who have kept the interest in this deceptive, hateful campaign alive (such as the commercial TV Prima television channel, for example).

Crazy white guys

A brief note on this idea of reduced sanity. Let's ask ourselves this question: If a similar crime had been committed by a Muslim, would the assertion that the perpetrator had allegedly been in a state of reduced sanity prevent the prosecutor from proposing a lengthy sentence as punishment?

Let's notice that the tendency to excuse non-Islamist terrorists or racist murderers due to their mental state has almost become a custom in the Czech Republic and elsewhere in Europe - a group of experts in psychiatry did their best to turn Breivik, the Norwegian terrorist, into a madman, while other psychiatrists refuted their diagnosis. The murderer of three Romani people in Hurbanova, Slovakia, who also shot and injured another two people in that same attack, was sentenced to just nine years in prison with psychiatric treatment to follow.

In that case the Slovak prosecutor, who from the beginning had alleged that the perpetrator had planned the murders and that this had not been behavior of the short-circuited kind, suddenly pivoted 180 degrees after reading a vaguely-formulated psychiatric assessment and proposed the low punishment himself. Four years for an act of terrorism in this Czech case, one that has been proven beyond the shadow of a doubt, makes a mockery of common sense.

What lies behind such proposals is the feeling that European terrorists or racist murderers are, after all, just "our white guys", who have nothing in common with fanatics who are Islamists - but that is a big error, because what they have in common is their methods, including violent ones, as well as the way they think. Here is just one of many examples: The organized attack by neo-Nazis on the Klinika social center, including attempts to set the people inside the center on fire, was shelved by police officers who said they could not charge the group as a whole, and they had not managed to prove what each individual member of the group had actually done.

Comparing punishments

When we compare this case with the punishments handed down for other felonies, then four years for committing the attempted derailment of two trains in which innocent people are traveling is cynical indeed. Take the case of Jakub Hurník (age 20), who recently began serving eight years in prison.

According to the court, Hurník aided and abetted the destruction of a unique 16th-century wooden church in the Czech town of Guty, Třinec district. The youth testified that he had been tricked into being involved by a "friend" who asked him for a ride.

Hurník never set anything on fire himself, and he did not know the perpetrator wanted to set the church on fire until it was too late. The Czech Police are also able to be merciless when it comes to perpetrators of felonies with a political flavor whom they perceive to be left-wingers.

Let's recall Operation Phoenix. According to the indictment in that case, in April 2015 several anarchists planted two flammable mixtures of gasoline, polystyrene and vegetable oil near the Chuchle railway bridge, where an attack was meant to be carried out against a military train.

Two women were also tried for not preventing the planned attack. The entire terrorist action had been provoked by two secret police officers who had infiltrated the group.

The left-wing activists were acquitted because they refuted the evidence submitted in favor of the police version of events. The prosecutor, however, proposed that two of them be sentenced to 12 years in prison for merely preparing the attack - in other words, for a felony that was never carried out.

For comparison's sake, news server has previously described several arson attacks against Romani people - ones that were actually committed - towards which the police and sometimes even the courts have taken very lax approaches. The Czech Police in Opava, for example, have never even completed their investigations into the 2010 arson attacks there.

Let's not elect haters

Failing to punish perpetrators, or handing down low sentences against them, directly encourages them, so this siding with Balda-type criminals is something that all of society, including the police themselves, could soon regret. Even Breivik, who murdered dozens of young people for political reasons, was sentenced to just 20 years in prison.

What kind of message is being sent to terrorists by the actions of the police and the justice system itself in these cases? For the rest of us there is just one conclusion: Let's not elect politicians who spark fear and hatred in society, because we could end up the victims ourselves one day.

František Kostlán, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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