Czech Republic: 200 people attend anti-Romani demonstration in Varnsdorf
After a three-month hiatus, about 200 people met on the main square in the Czech town of Varnsdorf Sunday afternoon for yet another anti-Romani demonstration. Petr Heinrich, a resident of Varnsdorf, convened the event under the slogans "Law and order" and "The right to timely and truthful information". Organizers also invited ultra-right extremists from the Workers' Social Justice Party (Dělnická strana sociální spravedlnosti - DSSS), whose flag was carried by demonstrators on the square. The demonstration ended just before 15:00 CET.
News server Novinky.cz reported that Heinrich said demonstrators would be able to express their extreme dissatisfaction with official silence regarding cases of criminal activity by "inadaptable citizens" in Varnsdorf and to share their own experiences of having been attacked by Romani people. The Mediafax agency reported that both those addressing the crowd and people in the crowd criticized the security situation in the town and pointed out the unresolved problems for which they believe the Romani minority is to blame. They said they were bothered by a lack of information about the procedures being performed by the police, the town leadership, and other authorities, whom they charged with inactivity. "Gypsy aggression is increasing," Heinrich declared at the demonstration.
Another speaker, Pavel Vaňáč, criticized the government, which had promised to address the situation in the region and in his view had done nothing. He had a pile of paper with him which he said included various demands, such as reducing the age limit for felony criminal liability, increased regulation of gambling, and stricter punishments for misdemeanors. He briefly commented on each proposal before throwing most of them into a trash can because they had not yet been implemented.
"I also have similar documentation of demands, but I am not throwing them out, I am doing my best to advocate for them at various negotiations. It's hard, some things are having more success than others - for example, the misdemeanor registry has been pushed through," Mayor Martin Louka (HNHRM) said when addressing the demonstration. With respect to the situation in the town, Louka said that according to police statistics and his own experience, the situation had calmed down: "However, each more serious incident stirs up dissatisfaction once more. We are doing our best to negotiate with everyone interested, we are convening round tables, the organizers of today's assembly also have been attending them, but we hear more complaints and criticism from them than motions for what to do next."
The demonstration ended before 15:00 CET and the participants dispersed peacefully. Police monitored the event and were prepared to intervene in order to ensure order and safety. However, the officers were not at the scene of the demonstration but followed it from cars parked nearby. "The event occurred peacefully, we did not have to intervene," police spokesperson Ilona Novotná told the Mediafax agency.
Organizers said the reason they convened the demonstration was a New Year's incident during which a group of Romani people allegedly attacked a man and his parents as they were walking past the Sport residential hotel, where many Romani residents live. On Friday police announced the attack had been racially motivated for at least one of the two Romani men they have arrested and charged with grievous bodily harm and rioting.
The demonstrators were also bothered by a speech given by Vice-Mayor Josef Poláček to a recent conference held by the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) on "Law and Justice" in which he described his view of the previous demonstrations in Varnsdorf. Poláček questioned those demonstrations, pointing out that while the demonstrators had been drawing attention to so-called "inadaptables", there were many people among the protesters who have also committed crimes.
At the start of this week, another Vice-Mayor, Karel Dubský, questioned the New Year's incident. He told news server Romea.cz that he found it suspicious that the incident was not reported until 2 January when it allegedly happened on 1 January and said the CCTV footage from the cameras that film the area around the Sport did not show the alleged victims were there at the time they claimed to have been attacked.
Convicted con artist Lukáš Kohout, the previous "star" of last year's anti-Romani demonstrations, attempted to reserve the square at the exact same time as today's demonstration but was turned down by the town. "His request had the wrong date on it, he announced the square would be occupied in January 2011. We asked him to change the date, but even so his was the second request," explained Romana Mocová, spokesperson for the Varnsdorf town hall. The infamous provocateur turned to the Regional Court for an injunction to prevent the competing demonstration, but the court turned him down.
Kohout tried to spark even greater tensions between ethnic Czechs and Romani people in Varnsdorf when he posted entries on Facebook under the name "Emil Dunka", calling on Romani people to demonstrate against "white racism". The DSSS latched on to the disinformation and exploited it on the party's website as grounds for yet another attack on local Romani people.
Earlier this week, Heinrich confirmed a rupture in the ranks of the anti-Romani demonstrators when he said that Kohout would not be welcomed at the rally. "If he does anything offensive, as the convener of the gathering I will call on him to leave," Heinrich said. Heinrich had also called on locals to attend an unannounced meeting last Sunday, but only about 50 people turned out on the square.
Police have monitored the situation in Varnsdorf since Friday. "We are now monitoring various responses to the event and we will follow it as it unfolds. Reinforcements are prepared - there won't be such massive ones deployed as there were during the autumn demonstrations, but we will do everything we can to prevent negative phenomena," Police spokesperson Petra Trypesová told Mediafax on Friday.
The Šluknov foothills were at the center of media attention from the end of last year's summer holidays until mid-October. Unrest in the towns of Nový Bor, Rumburk and Varnsdorf was sparked by two incidents in which armed young Romani men were said to have allegedly assaulted ethnic Czechs. Now, however, investigations are reporting that the incident in Rumburk, for example, took place differently than the media reported it at the time.
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