Czech Republic: Hundreds attend meeting about anti-Roma unrest in České Budějovice
Several hundred people gathered today in a sports hall in České Budějovice where the town leadership convened a public meeting to discuss the anti-Romani unrest that has occurred recently at the Máj housing estate there. Representatives of the municipality and the police answered questions, primarily about the situation in the locality, for three hours in an agitated atmosphere. Many of those attending complained that they feel unsafe at the Máj housing estate, where members of the Romani minority live.
"None of us expected this would be a walk through a rose garden. We'll see whether today contributes toward calming the situation," Mayor Juraj Thoma (Citizens for Budějovice - OPB) said after the meeting.
More than 50 questions and suggestions were raised during the meeting. The first person to address the crowd was the director of the South Bohemian Regional Police, Radomír Heřman, who assured the audience that police are investigating a recent conflict between five people at the Máj housing estate playground.
"It's just not possible that two groups give themselves names and then one group arms itself to attack the other. Problems cannot be settled through violence, that's illegal," Heřman said.
"How can you let the 400 Romani residents of the Máj housing estate terrorize the other 20 000 occupants?" a 60-year-old man asked. His question was met with thunderous applause from the audience.
"Why aren't there more police officers at the housing estate?" one youth asked. Other people expressed the opinion that the police force is not large enough to handle the situation there.
"Why didn't any of you ever tell us you were dissatisfied before now? Where are your complaints? If you have some suggestions for police work, bring them to me," Heřman said.
The Romani people who joined the discussion warned that the recent demonstrations had turned into mobs hunting for people to attack. "How much longer will I have to hide?" one woman asked.
Some audience members made positive comments about coexistence between Czechs and Roma. "In our building all the children go to school and it's clean," another woman said.
Many people complained about the welfare system. In their view, the system benefits certain population groups.
"The town hall does not disburse welfare and cannot influence that system, it's not in our jurisdiction," Mayor Thoma said, adding that he had convened today's meeting to learn about specific problems at the housing estate so solutions might eventually be sought. "For the time being we've been talking about many different matters instead," Thoma said.
Several skirmishes have recently taken place at the Máj housing estate. First, on 21 June, children got into a conflict on the playground that was then joined by adults. Police intervened at the scene.
In response to the playground conflict, a demonstration was held on 29 June. When it was over, several hundred demonstrators proceeded to the Máj housing estate, where some clashed with police officers.
On Saturday 6 July police intervened again at the housing estate. Anti-Romani demonstrators moved to the housing estate from the center of town after the local government dispersed their unannounced assembly.
The demonstrators intended to set off en masse for the housing estate, where the Romani community lives, but hundreds of police officers were waiting for them. A separate assembly and discussion among local residents took place at the same time on 6 July at the Máj housing estate. More municipal police than usual have been deployed to the housing estate for several days now.
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