Controversial Romani figure appears with Czech extremists opposing measures to control the pandemic
On Sunday, 28 November, despite the inclement weather, the Letná Plain in Prague saw hundreds of people opposed to the Czech Government measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. The assembly was convened by the movement called "Let's Open Czechia - The Dog Has Died" (Otevřeme Česko - Chcípl PES) in collaboration with many other initiatives, movements and parties of a similar strain [the acronym PES, which also means "dog" in Czech, is a reference to the Czech Republic's online system for warning about the state of the COVID-19 pandemic] .
The conveners of the demonstration included extremist parties such as the Alliance of National Forces (Aliance národních sil) or the Workers' Social Justice Party (Dělnická strana sociální spravedlnosti - DSSS), which in the past has regularly convened demonstrations against Romani people. However, on Sunday those on the podium also included Romani community member David Mezei, who recently became infamously involved with the case of Romani community member Stanislav Tomáš, who died after police intervened against him in June.
Mezei shared the same stage with members of the "Freedom and Direct Democracy of Tomio Okamura" (SPD) movement, with controversial singer Daniel Landa, extremist former legislator Lubomír Volný, and the antigypsyist chair of the DSSS, Tomáš Vandas. According to estimates released by the police, roughly 2 500 - 3 000 people attended the event.
Dozens of patrol officers oversaw the event on the scene, and police spokesperson Jan Daňko said no major problems occurred. The assembly ended before 17:00 CET.
The event was meant to begin at 13:00, but started somewhat later as organizers waited for supporters to arrive. After beginning at approximately 13:30, representatives of the "Let's Open Czechia" movement took the stage, followed by speakers who disagree with the current method of combating the pandemic.
In the view of those gathered, personal freedom is the most important thing of all, and they argue that the state, under the pretext of combating COVID-19, is unacceptably limiting that freedom, and for that reason they are opposed to vaccinations or Government restrictions. People responded to the speakers by chanting slogans such as "Freedom!" or "We've had enough!"
In addition to carrying various flags, those attending also brought many banners and signs with slogans such as "Defend your children", "Stalls can operate indoors but not outdoors? Insanity!", "Make Ivermectin available", "The vaccine is a business", "I am not a lab rat", "My body my choice", "Let's protect our children from the despotism of the state", "Get vaccinated? Over your dead body!", "New elections" or "From Hippocrates to Mengele".
Those speaking introduced themselves as health care workers, lawyers, or representatives of the movements organizing the event. "What is happening now is no longer about whether you're vaccinated or not," said the chair of the Tricolor party, Zuzana Majerová Zahradníková.
"This is about how they are restricting our lives, breaking the laws and driving us back into the kind of totalitarian regime that we already experienced here once," she argued. David Tesař, chair of the Manifest movement, or Jana Volfová, chair of the Free Bloc, also spoke of an Orwellian state or totalitarianism.
Emil Voráč: David Mezei does not speak for all Romani people
The speakers included Romani community member David Mezei, from whom pro-Romani and Romani organizations previously distanced themselves when he inserted himself into the case of Stanislav Tomáš, who died after police intervened against him in June. "We should all turn out against the problems affecting us in this republic in unity, without exceptions," Mezei said in his speech.
"That applies to us too, to our people, so we can join the people and take to the streets with them for freedom. We're Czechs too and this is affecting us!" Mezei shouted into the microphone before handing it over to Czech MP Radek Koten (SPD).
Emil Voráč, a Romani community member and chair of the Khamoro nonprofit organization, sharply objected to both Mezei and the other Romani people who supported the demonstration. "If anybody says that Mezei was representing all of us Roma, then I cannot agree with that, because that demonstration was organized by the association The Dog Has Died and supported by political entities such as the SPD, Tricolor, the Free Bloc or the DSSS and others," Voráč posted to Facebook.
"Basically, it was organized by those who for years have been promoting a neo-Nazi politics against Romani people, a politics of shouting 'Gypsies to the gas chambers', 'The only good gypsy is a dead gypsy', or 'Bohemia for the Czechs'. Moreover, not all Romani people are antivaxxers," Voráč went on to say.
"So that means the 10-15 Romani people who were there represented the Roma whom the Nazis will allow to kiss their asses when it suits them. Neither I nor many other Roma will ever forgive Hitler's murder of a million innocent people on the basis of nothing but racist convictions, and we will not forgive his followers either," Voráč posted.
However, other Romani people supported Mezei during his live broadcast of the event on Facebook. A great distrust of vaccination against COVID-19 is prevalent among impoverished Roma.
The event also featured brief appearances by the singer Daniel Landa, ex-MP Lubomír Volný, Libor Vondráček of The Free Ones, DSSS chair Vandas, National Democracy chair Adam B. Bartoš, vice-chair of the Akce D.O.S.T., Michal Semín, and many other speakers. After 16:00, the police warned those attending the demonstration that they had to follow measures such as maintaining social distancing or covering their respiratory tracts.
Demonstrators literally laughed at the police warning. Photographs of his attendance at the event were also shared on social media by Vlastimil Pechanec, the man who spent 13 years in prison for the racist murder of Romani community member Otta Absolon.
The initiative "The Dog Has Died" arose as a protest against measures limiting the operation of restaurants in the Czech Republic. As a political movement, "Let's Open Czechia - The Dog Has Died" fielded candidates in October's elections to the lower house, winning 0.4 % of the vote.
Dozens of small groups and parties who share their critical perspective on the Government's moves have begun to contribute to their events since the elections. The outgoing cabinet announced that as of midnight on Friday, 26 November, a state of emergency is in effect for 30 days due to the escalating pandemic, and new across-the-board measures against it were announced.
Christmas markets have been banned; bars, clubs and restaurants must close between 22:00 and 5:00; and cultural, educational or sports events can only be held for a maximum of 1 000 seated persons. The growth in new cases of COVID-19 this week has already exceeded 20 000 cases three days in a row, and it is apparent that this week will yield the highest confirmed number of COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began in the Czech Republic in March 2020.
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