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Czech media exaggerated reporting of brawl that unleashed ethnic unrest in the north this fall

North Bohemia, 29.12.2011 15:06, (ROMEA)
A violent clash between rioters and police in Varnsdorf earlier this year. Photo: Lukáš Houdek

News server Aktuálně.cz has revealed more detailed, precise information from the police investigation into a brawl earlier this year that was reported by the media as a racially motivated attack committed by Romani people against ethnic Czechs. Sensationalist reporting of the incident was a factor in sparking the subsequent ethnic unrest that took place in the Šluknov foothills this past fall. Four months later, the facts of the case differ substantially from the initial media reports of it.

As it turns out, there is a high probability that the brawl was part of an ongoing battle between two local criminal gangs of drug dealers. "From the investigation conducted by Aktuálně.cz and from the police investigation it is evident that this was a violent incident between two groups of residents of Rumburk and the surrounding area who already knew one another, who had encountered one another more than once that same night prior to the brawl, and who mutually provoked one another," the news server reports.

Aktuálně.cz also describes the event as a brawl between four or five people on each side of the conflict. The others who were present are said to have been onlookers or to have even done their best to prevent the violence. The news server reports that this updated version of the events has been confirmed not only by witnesses, but by people familiar with the police investigation file. Moreover, with one exception, the persons involved were already of interest to police.

News server Romea.cz warned at the start of September that the media were reporting the incident in an unethical way because they were not giving the Romani participants in the conflict any room to present their side of the story, which made it likely that the public was receiving significantly biased reporting. The version of the story which Romea.cz published at the time as a possible alternative description of the course of events corresponds in many aspects to the findings now published by Aktuálně.cz: "We were walking home from the discotheque. There were 12 of us, not 20. A local guy ran up to us and said six white guys were beating up a Romani man. We ran over there and five of us, not all 12, got into it with some white guys. During the fighting, both sides were cursing each other as black or white swine. The version of events the media has reported is completely out of touch with reality," a Romani participant in the incident told us at the time.

The distorted publicity given to this incident and to other violent clashes between ethnic Czechs and Romani people unleashed social unrest in the region which lasted for several weeks. Every weekend, several towns in the Šluknov foothills experienced anti-Romani demonstrations, some of which were attended by the neo-Nazi Workers' Social Justice Party (DSSS).

Gwendolyn Albert, su, Aktuálně.cz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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