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Czech mayor fights crime by collectively blaming Roma

Nový Bydžov, 27.11.2010 18:46, (ROMEA)

The town hall of Nový Bydžov, Czech Republic has announced a "war on Gypsies" after several muggings and a rape were reported there. According to a statement on the town's official website, a special security commission is in place and there are plans to strengthen the municipal police.

According to the newspaper Hradecký deník, Nový Bydžov residents are complaining that local Roma have allegedly been committing assault, muggings and theft. A 21-year-old girl was also allegedly raped recently. Speaking at a town council meeting, her father said: "Almost every day someone gets mugged here. Our children are attacked in broad daylight. People won't even sign a petition about this because they are afraid of the Gypsies. The town is ruled by fear." The town's web page now features an open letter from the father of the alleged rape victim addressed to all residents: "Many people are having bad experiences but most are keeping them to themselves and are either too afraid or too ashamed to report them to the authorities or the police. They are afraid their next encounter might turn out even worse...I would like to challenge you all, citizens of our town: Don't be afraid, report everything to the police.“ A petition is also going around the town calling for increased security. The paper reports that in addition to being passed from hand to hand, the petition is available at all doctors' offices, at schools, and at the town hall itself.

Pavel Louda (ODS), the town's mayor, responded to father's open letter with an official declaration entitled "Gypsies are raping, town prepares special mesaures". The declaration includes the following generalizations:

"The citizens' hatred of the Gypsies is boiling over."

"There are only two state police officers serving in the town. Since their jurisdiction is broader than just the town itself, whenever they are called away, the town is left unprotected and the Gypsies merrily cause trouble by shouting in the streets, threatening people, including with knives, and committing theft and rape."

"While all decent people are at work, the Gypsies hang out on the benches on the town square, contentedly shooting the breeze."

"The citizens condemn all of these activities and do not want the Gypsies here - they want them to disappear, but how can this happen? The town's hands are bound, particularly by state legislation which does not make radical measures possible - otherwise, the town would be sued for discrimination."

Louda also writes that the alleged rape is "the last straw - we will introduce repressive measures, even if my colleagues and I end up on trial because this absurd state of ours considers us to be discriminating against the poor Gypsies."

The town claims the number of Roma living there has grown during the past five years to 5 % of population of approximately 7 000. Louda says the town has increased the number of its municipal patrols by one-third to a total of six officers who will also receive a car to use. Nový Bydžov also wants to file a lawsuit and a complaint with the ombudsman over reductions to the police budget. "We will try to install a closed circuit camera system," the mayor says.

However, not all of the town council members agree with the town's drastic approach. "I ran for office in order to address the situation with the Roma, and I have worked with them a long time - I have my own ideas and I think this problem must be handled differently," says council member Josef Žibrún.

Czech PM and ODS chair Petr Nečas condemned Mayor Louda for applying the principle of collective guilt and tarring all of the Roma with the same brush. "You can't lump them all together. That would really be racism," Nečas told Czech Television.

News server Romea.cz asked council member Vladimír Neumann (ČSSD) for his opinion about the declaration, which Louda wrote on behalf of the town hall. Neumann said he had not yet read the declaration and will issue his own statement on Tuesday, 30 November together with another council member, Jaroslav Šedivý (ČSSD). Neumann said he was not aware of any planned "repressive measures", just that an increase in the number of police officers was being negotiated. "People in town are afraid. In the summer, when I walk through the town square in the evening on my way home from my garden plot, little children are running around making noise when they should be in bed," Neumann said. He also stressed that "it's not only Roma who are to blame for crime in town, naturally white people commit crimes too." Neumann estimates about half of all crimes in the town are committed by Roma and sees this as very disproportionate given their numbers in the town, a situation that leads to other conflicts.

News server Romea.cz also contacted several people for comment. Sociologist Fedor Gál said, "What more can be said about human evil and criminal behavior - about this rape, about the stupidity of the mayor of Nový Bydžov and the others who have signed these statements about the collective guilt of the local Roma, about this longstanding problem which we have grown accustomed to labeling a 'Roma' one, and which we address through lots of talk, dividing people into the 'decent white' ones and the 'lazy Gypsy parasites'? Nothing! Rapists should be put behind bars, the mayor needs to knock it off and those who handle the so-called 'Roma problem' need to get their butts out of their bureaucratic chairs and go into the field. There is really a lot of work to do there and it is not easy."

Miroslav Mareš, an expert on extremism, says that "notwithstanding the seriousness of the problems which evidently exist in the town, from the point of view of Czech law, attacking an entire ethnic group or nation with such a general, negative statement can be considered illegal."

Čeněk Růžička, chair of the Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust, says that what some Roma individuals are alleged to have done in this case is contemptible, as is all crime. "By law, such people end up in court. For us, for Roma people, something like this is completely unacceptable. The Roma have traditionally understood rape and similar crimes to be the worst kind of brutality."

Růžička believes the mayor's statement is very dangerous. "The emotionality here is practically a repeat of the situation during the First Republic, when everyone had something to say about how to handle the problems of the Roma. Such enormous pressure was created that a law was adopted making it possible for towns and villages to prevent Roma from entering their territories. I would expect a mayor to rise above this situation." Růžička said he was not surprised the mayor has issued a general declaration blaming everything on all Roma without exception. "I condemn any kind of generalization, but unfortunately today everyone speaks this way without realizing that it is really untruthful to lump everyone together, and that prompts more negative emotions," Růžička says.

Journalist Patrik Banga shares this view: "When I read the first sentence of the .pdf document on the town's web page - to say nothing of the rest of it - I felt I was reading something from 1939. If there are difficulties with the Roma community there, then I am able to understand the anger and the efforts to do something about the situation. However, that is what the police is for, and if they are not doing their job, there is a mistake somewhere that needs to be addressed. The manifesto signed by the mayor is a direct, disgusting expression of racism for which he should be held responsible - and with all due respect, I hope he will be.“

Sociologist Jiřina Šiklová hopes the two public employees who signed the declaration will understand they have made a mistake and will either distance themselves from it or remove it. "When a public official issues such a text, it really smells of fascism," she said, adding that Louda's declaration reminds her of articles that were published in the magazine Aryan Struggle during the Nazi Protectorate. "During the Nuremberg trials the authors of such pieces were labeled Nazis or the minions of Nazi Germany. They were punished accordingly... If a mayor, or any individual paid from public funds, is a racist, he should be removed from office. What would be best would be if the citizens of that town who are not racists removed him from power," Šiklová said.

Cyril Koky, Coordinator for Roma Affairs and the Integration of Foreigners in the Central Bohemian Region, has called on the mayor not to engage in populism and to handle everything rationally and with a cool head. "I recognize that the situation in the town will not be easy after the horrible crime of rape has been committed, and I confess I do not know of any quick, effective remedy for such a situation. The only solution I know is systematic work with members of the Roma minority. However, what has surprised me is that you do not realize that it is not possible for you, as the representative of a municipality, to apply and implement the principle of collective guilt. If you take legal measures to stabilize the situation in the town, and if those measures do not contravene the applicable laws, it is certainly clear that no one will criticize you," Koky wrote in a letter to the mayor which he made available to news server Romea.cz.

Comments in full:

Jiřina Šiklová, sociologist

"The declaration by Mayor Pavel Louda reminds me of articles that were published in the magazine Aryan Struggle during the Nazi Protectorate. During the Nuremberg trials the authors of such pieces were labeled Nazis or the minions of Nazi Germany. They were punished accordingly. Ing. Pavel Louda has praised himself for taking integration measures which are said to benefit the Roma but are also said to not be effective. He wants to increase the number of police officers, which is also reminiscent of Hitler's rise during the 1930s. In those days the SA divisions served that purpose. He is also informing the public that citizens are demanding a radical, repressive response to the 'Gypsy question', including the disappearance of 'Gypsies' from the town. Where are they to go? Are the citizens really proposing these solutions? Are the citizens of that town really such racists, or does the mayor mainly just want to get publicity for himself with this statement? He is forgetting those people are also citizens of this state, as is he."

"In the old days, the feudal lord who owned the land and the ordinary people had the power to permit the movements of his subjects, including their marriages. The Nazis repeated the same dynamic when they labeled contact between Aryans and Jews as 'rassenschande' - they locked those citizens up and sent the 'Gypsies' to the gas chambers. After the war, not quite 600 of them returned to Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia. The rest had been murdered. During the previous regime, under the Bolsheviks, Roma were imported here from various countries as cheap labor, primarily into the area from which more than two million Germans had been expelled. Then they literally put barbed wire up along the border and shot anyone who wanted to cross it. Does the mayor really want to introduce similar measures? If an ordinary citizen (I'm not naming names) is a racist, it's sad, but if a racist becomes mayor, or takes any other publicly funded job, he should be removed from office. What would be best would be if the citizens of that town who are not racists removed him from power. I hope the two public employees who signed the declaration will understand they have made a mistake and will either distance themselves from it or remove it. When a public official issues such a text, it really smells of fascism."

Čeněk Růžička, chair of the Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust:

"What those Roma guys did in Nový Bydžov is contemptible, as all crime is. By law, such people end up in court. For us, for Roma people, something like this is completely unacceptable. The Roma have traditionally understood rape and similar crimes to be the worst kind of brutality, those crimes are worst possible, the ones we condemn most of all."

"The mayor's statement is very dangerous. The emotionality here is practically a repeat of the situation during the First Republic, when everyone had something to say about how to handle the problems of the Roma. Such enormous pressure was created that a law was adopted making it possible for towns and villages to prevent Roma from entering their territories. I would expect a mayor to rise above this situation."

"The mayor is also evidently doing this for political reasons, to score points. I am no longer seriously surprised that he is making these generalizations in his statement and blaming everything on all Roma without exception. Naturally I condemn any kind of generalization, but unfortunately today everyone speaks this way without realizing that it is really untruthful to lump everyone together, and that prompts more negative emotions."

Fedor Gál, sociologist

"What more can be said about human evil and criminal behavior - about this rape, about the stupidity of the mayor of Nový Bydžov and the others who have signed these statements about the collective guilt of the local Roma, about this longstanding problem which we have grown accustomed to labeling a 'Roma' one, and which we address through lots of talk, dividing people into the 'decent white' ones and the 'lazy Gypsy parasites'? Nothing! Rapists should be put behind bars, the mayor needs to knock it off and those who handle the so-called 'Roma problem' need to get their butts out of their bureaucratic chairs and go into the field. There is really a lot of work to do there and it is not easy."

Miroslav Mareš, expert on extremism

"Notwithstanding the seriousness of the problems which evidently exist in the town, from the point of view of Czech law, attacking an entire ethnic group or nation with such a general, negative statement can be considered illegal."

Patrik Banga, journalist

"When I read the first sentence of the .pdf document on the town's web page - to say nothing of the rest of it - I felt I was reading something from 1939. If there are difficulties with the Roma community there, then I am able to understand the anger and the effort to do something with the situation. However, that is what the police is for, and if they are not doing their job, there is a mistake somewhere that needs to be addressed. The manifesto signed by the mayor is a direct, disgusting expression of racism for which he should be held responsible - and with all due respect, I hope he will be.“

ČTK, František Kostlán, Gwendolyn Albert, Jitka Votavová, František Kostlán, Jitka Votavová, Hradecký deník, Czech Press Agency, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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