Czech Republic: 200 people at neo-Nazi assembly in Vítkov, minimal police intervention needed
The 6 000-strong town of Vítkov (Opava district) has experienced only two of the three assemblies that had been announced as taking place there today. Neo-Nazis came to the town and marched through its streets, including past the site of one of the worst racist attacks in the Czech Republic ever.
In 2009 a group of neo-Nazi radicals threw three Molotov cocktails into a small house occupied by a Romani family in Vítkov. The infant Natálka, who was not yet two years old at the time, suffered burns over 80 % of her body as a result.
At noon today, promoters of the Equal Opportunity Party (Strana rovných příležitostí - SRP), which defends the interests of the socially vulnerable, held a meeting in Vítkov as well. The Blokujeme! ("Let's Block the Marches!") platform had also planned a separate meeting on the streets of Vítkov for today, but on Friday evening the convener of that gathering, Imrich Horvát, announced to ČTK that the platform had cancelled it.
The Vítkov police and town hall readied extraordinary measures to deal with today's events.
News server Romea.cz followed the situation live there and reported on it in real time online as follows:
The joint assembly of the SRP and the Blokujeme! platform is ending. The Romani people and their supporters are leaving. Our online reporting is also over. Thank you for following us. We will report more information in an article summarizing today's events that will be published as soon as possible.
The stress is not yet over for the Romani people at the residential hotel. About 30 neo-Nazis have gathered in a pub nearby. "People from the residential hotel have asked the police to remain at the scene because they are afraid of the aggressive, drunken neo-Nazis. Pavel Sládek Matějný can be seen among the Nazis in the pub," our correspondent at the scene reports.
A religious service is beginning on Husova Street as part of the joint assembly of the SRP and the Blokujeme! platform.
Police did not have to intervene with any particular show of force today. Officers detained about three neo-Nazis only who refused to obey their instructions. The right-wing radicals chanted: "Police state!". Officers moved them out of Husova Street where the Romani assembly was taking place.
Another attempt has been made by about 50 anti-Romani people to reach the Romani assembly in the park on Husova Street. A small group of radicals is being led by neo-Nazi Pavel Sládek Matějný, just as he did during a previous demonstration this year in Duchcov. Locals are watching curiously to see what will happen. Police have called on the neo-Nazis to disperse. Riot units are prepared to intervene. Most people from the anti-Romani crowd have headed back to Jan Zajíc Square and the entire event has officially ended there.
Some of the neo-Nazis have attempted to get around the police blockade on Husova Street to enter the park where the Romani assembly is taking place from the back side. Police officers prevented them from assaulting the Romani people. The march has taken place without any scuffles so far.
The Romani people at the SRP assembly have not allowed themselves to be provoked by the shouting of the anti-Romani crowd and are continuing to have a good time dancing and singing in the small park on Husova Street. The group De La Negra from Krupka is playing there.
The right-wing extremists are now near the Romani gathering on Husova Street, but mounted police officers are blocking their path. There have been practically no confrontations. The crowd has continued on its way.
According to several reports, the crowd of anti-Romani demonstrators has separated into three groups. About 40 neo-Nazis, according to this information, have separated themselves from the rest of the crowd.
About 50 neo-Nazis and 150 Czechs, not all of them from Vítkov, have set off on their march through the town. According to several reports, they are heading for the residential hotel where about 60 Romani people live. The Czech News Agency reports that about 300 people total were on the square.
News server iDNES.cz reports that there are already roughly 200 people at the anti-Romani demonstration. The neo-Nazis are making speeches. "For attacking an unoccupied house in Vítkov, where some people were living without permission, the perpetrators received much longer prison sentences than did the dilettantes who perpetrated the machete attack in Nový Bor. Where is justice?" asked neo-Nazi Pavel Matějný, repeating an outrageous untruth about the circumstances of the Vítkov arson. The crowd nodded in response. Matějný also exploited the memory of Jan Zajíc, who set himself on fire to protest the occupation of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic by Warsaw Pact forces in 1968, for his own propagandistic purposes.
According to our correspondent, approximately 50 people are standing on Jan Zajíc Square in Vítkov. They include local residents and neo-Nazis. "There are about 20 neo-Nazis here, the other people are just onlookers," our correspondent reports. Police significantly outnumber them.
News server iDNES.cz reports that according to Tomáš Kužel, the director of the Moravian-Silesian Regional Police, roughly 150 demonstrators have arrived by car in Vítkov and are dispersed throughout the town. Only 14 people came by train.
Our correspondent reports that the parents of arson victim Natálka Siváková are at the gathering in the park on Husova Street. Ladislav Tatár, the father of the Romani man shot dead in Tanvald on New Year's Day 2012, has also been in Vítkov since yesterday.
Speeches are alternating with Romani music at the joint assembly of the SRP and the Blokujeme! platform. "After the [neo-Nazi] demonstration was announced, the local Romani residents were afraid of what might happen, and they called on us to hold this 'happening' here. They have shown that good coexistence and good dialogue results in non-violence. We don't want violence, we want coexistence of the kind we used to enjoy here," SRP chair Štefan Tišer said.
Vice-Governor Josef Babka (Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia - KSČM) believes the only thing "hot" in Vítkov today will be the sun. "However, it does make me nervous that something like this is taking place at the site of that attack on a Romani family several years ago," he told news server Novinky.cz.
Tomáš Kužel, the director of the Moravian-Silesian Regional Police, says hundreds of police officers have been deployed for this event. The cost of the deployment will definitely be in the millions of crowns. "We presume there will not be any larger problems," Radim Daněk, commander of the police operations today, has said.
Political speeches are being made at the SRP assembly on Husova Street. Romani pride is being repeatedly referenced, as is the need to stand up to the neo-Nazis, and the bad social situation of Romani people is also being mentioned. Romani speakers are emphasizing that they want work, not welfare. "We want to work, but the right-wing government has been taking work away from us. We are not slackers. Various radicals are now taking advantage of the opportunity to threaten us, and it costs a lot of money to police their events," Štefan Tišer, chair of the Equal Opportunities Party, is quoted as saying by news server iDNES.cz. "Our generation worked because there was work available. The youth don't have that opportunity anymore," Tišer said.
Czech Railways has sent news server Romea.cz a statement regarding the increase in train service during the neo-Nazi demonstration in Vítkov. "Every paying passenger is entitled to and has the right to transportation. Czech Railways cannot decide which passengers are permitted to travel and which are undesirable. In cases where a larger number of passengers has been announced and the capacity of regular service is not sufficient, we ensure an increase within the realm of what is technologically possible. This is how we proceed during various athletic, cultural, and other events, for example. We usually increase service during football matches and transport fans to them. In such cases, including these events in Vítkov, we cooperate very closely with police to ensure maximum calm and safety. Security measures have been prepared. Ignoring this situation or refusing to respond to it could result in escalation. The participants will make it to the demonstration come what may. We intend to collaborate with the police efficiently, and the police need to keep the participants under control as much as possible. Czech Railways has under no circumstances improved the conditions under which this anti-race event is taking place and definitely does not support it. As a transportation provider, Czech Railways cannot undertake to resolve a society-wide problem by refusing to serve passengers because of their particular approaches, convictions, or social opinions," Radka Pistoriusová, press spokesperson for Czech Railways, told news server Romea.cz.
Only journalists are present now at Jan Zajíc Square in Vítkov, where the neo-Nazis are supposed to meet at 14:00.
The joint assembly of the SRP and the Blokujeme!platform has been symbolically launched by playing the international Romani anthem.
About 60 people have gathered in the small park on Husova Street for the assembly of the SRP and the Blokujeme! platform. The assembly has not yet officially started. "Our team of volunteers made it to the residential hotel and is starting work there," Miroslav Brož told news server Romea.cz.
Police officers are stopping cars heading for Vítkov on the access roads, checking the drivers' identification and searching the vehicles. Several dozen officers are waiting at the train station for the arrival of those attending the assemblies. According to media reports, Czech Railways has for some reason accommodated the neo-Nazis and has allegedly increased the number of trains going to Vítkov today. A helicopter is flying over the small town of 6 000.
In the park on Husova Street the joint assembly of the Equal Opportunities Party (Strana rovných příležitostí - SRP) and the Blokujeme! platform is getting ready. "Right now we are putting up the podium and getting the sound system ready," Miroslav Brož of the Konexe association, which is a member of the Blokujeme! platform, told news server Romea.cz. The site is decorated with signs and the Romani flag is flying. "In a moment a 10-member team of volunteers will go to the residential hotel to provide psychological and social assistance to the residents," Brož said. The assembly promoting coexistence between the majority and the minority and the resolution of problems such as overcrowded residential hotels will start in the park at around noon.
Temperatures today in Vítkov are expected to rise above 30 degrees Celsius. People are out of luck - the local swimming pool has been closed because of the neo-Nazis.
Political scientist Miroslav Mareš says the main purpose of the march by right-wing extremists through Vítkov is to provoke people through the media. "The choice of a place such as Vítkov, which is infamous for the arson attack on a Romani family's home, is a significant provocation. That really is a topic guaranteed to attract media, and the group of extremists that has broken away from the Workers' Social Justice Party (Dělnická strana sociální spravedlnosti - DSSS) simply needs to establish its profile through the media. However, I am convinced that this series of demonstrations scheduled for Vítkov and other towns does not have the potential to reach out to the broader public," Mareš told news server Novinky.cz.
The town has removed garbage cans from several streets and parking has been banned in some places since Friday. The town hall is calling on the residents of Vítkov to take a prudent approach to today's events. A larger number of police officers will be on the scene and a helicopter will also monitor the situation. Police will monitor people and vehicles driving into town. There is said to be a risk that the event will be attended by people who have previously broken the law during previous similar demonstrations elsewhere in the country.
The neo-Nazi assembly is scheduled to start at 14:00 on Jan Zajíc Square. The participants will set out on their march after gathering there.
The Blokujeme! platform has announced that it respects the decision by the Vítkov town hall to partially ban its assembly. Activists from the platform will join the demonstration announced by the Equal Opportunities Party (Strana rovných příležitostí - SRP) on Husova Street. "Under no circumstances will we physically block the neo-Nazi march," Romani activist Ivana Mariposa Čonková of Blokujeme! explained to news server Romea.cz. "Our aim decidedly is not to instigate unrest. We consider the opportunity to publicly express our disagreement with anti-Romani marches by right-wing extremists and our disagreement with violence to be our civic responsibility. We are not blocking people, we are blocking racist ideas," she said.
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