Czech Republic: Neo-Nazis attempt pogrom on Roma, commit arson, nine injured, 28 arrests
Roughly 200 people, most of them Romani, gathered after 13:00 CET today at the Máj housing estate in České Budějovice where the assembly and cultural program "Čikhatar Het/Z bahna ven II" ("Out of the Mud II") was held by the Konexe civic association together with the local Romani community. The gathering was in response to an anti-Romani demonstration that started at 16:00 CET on Přemysl Otakar II Square and was attended by about 500 people.
The demonstrators headed for the Máj housing estate, where they attempted to attack the peaceful Romani assembly. Police intervened against them there.
Both gatherings were in response to an incident during which several children, their parents, and other unrelated adults got into conflict at a local playground. Several people were injured as a result of the clash between ethnic Czechs and Romani residents.
A pregnant woman was one of those injured. It is not yet clear who started the conflict or how, because police have not yet publicized the exact causes and circumstances of the incident.
"Our assembly is in support of the local Czech-Romani community of neighbors, to improve relations between them. We announced it to the town hall on Monday," Miroslav Brož of Konexe previously told news server Romea.cz.
"We preventatively announced our reservation of the streets at the Máj housing estate so the march could not proceed there, as it might involve violence. We are organizing a peaceful action," Markus Pape also told news server Deník.cz on behalf of Konexe.
The predominantly Romani people attending the assembly pointed out that the situation at the housing estate might improve if Romani people were also members of the police patrols in the neighborhood. Several speeches were made at the event, which included musical performances and singing.
The neo-Nazi gathering began at 16:00 on Přemysl Otakar II Square. About 200 people were on the square even before it started.
By 16:30 the number of people had risen to about 500. Several small groups of right-wing extremists were among those assembled.
On the square, the Baroque-era Samson's fountain became an improvised podium. News server Deník.cz reported that those speaking complained of a "double standard" in society and chanted racist slogans.
News server iDNES.cz reported that those on the square then said they wanted to go deliver a "message" to the Máj housing estate and end their gathering there. Small groups of hardcore right-wing extremists at the protest obviously were a potential problem.
Last week similar groups wreaked havoc in the town of Duchcov, assaulting police officers with bottles and rocks. The marchers in České Budějovice were shouting racist and xenophobic slogans such as "black swine".
Even though the demonstrators had not previously announced to authorities that they would march on the Máj housing estate, police did not intervene against the protesters when they set out from the square. Right-wing extremists with their faces covered made it all the way to Máj at about 5:30.
The marchers began throwing glass bottles and explosives at the Romani people gathered there. They set a garbage container on fire and a car caught fire as well.
Police intervened against them at the housing estate using tear gas. The right-wing extremists fought back, injuring a police officer and also a passer-by who was struck by a rock.
Just after 6 PM about 50 aggressive neo-Nazis were still on J. Bendy Street at the corner of Dubenská Street attacking the police with rocks. Police managed to split the right-wing extremists up into several smaller groups and calmed the situation for a moment.
However, the neo-Nazis then regrouped on Antonín Barcal Street and resumed their rock-throwing at police. At the same time, housing estate residents were out doing their best to re-park their cars to keep them from being struck by the neo-Nazis' rocks.
"A police vehicle with a broken windshield is driving around, there will evidently be more damage and injuries," a reporter for news server Deník.cz described the war zone scene in České Budějovice. Officers attempted to push the mob back away from the housing estate by using stun grenades.
Rumors began to spread at that time that police had started to make some of their first arrests among the demonstrators. Police spokesperson Lenka Holická was at the scene and told the Czech News Agency that she had not yet been informed of any arrests.
As of this writing, the situation at the housing estate is still rather unpredictable. "Our assembly ended before 17:00. What is happening in the streets of the town has nothing to do with our activities and we cannot influence it in any way," Michal Choura, the convener of today's demonstration, told the Czech News Agency.
Just before 20:00 CET, police announced they had arrested 28 people and were now evaluating how many had committed misdemeanors and how many had committed felonies. News server Romea.cz has been informed that nine people were injured during today's violence, two of them police officers.
Protest preparations underway for more than a week
Immediately after the playground incident at the Máj housing estate, a Facebook page was created called "Protest Actions against Inadaptable Citizens", the current cover term for all the anti-Romani actions being planned. The administrators of that page estimated between 700 - 800 demonstrators would attend today's protest.
Organizer Michael Choura also informed the public about it earlier this week. "We invited the mayor of České Budějovice to Saturday's event when we visited him. In his view, however, we are exaggerating the situation around the Máj housing estate," Choura said earlier.
The housing estate is part of a locality where a high number of socially vulnerable families and individuals live. A large proportion of them are people from the Romani community.
"[Last] Friday's conflict is simply the result of bad policy on the part of the municipality, the region, and the state. The economic and social situations of many people are truly desperate, and everyone is burying their head in the sand about it," former town councilor Marie Paukejová, who has long lived at the Máj housing estate, said previously.
The housing estate is the largest in the town, accommodating roughly one-fifth of its total population, and is one of many localities where no one wants to buy property. Real estate agencies report that the cost of real estate there is significantly lower than in any other part of town. At the start of the 1990s, people were moved to the Máj housing estate after the lucrative buildings in the town center where they had been living were privatized, some of them through restitution.
"I am concerned that these conflicts will increase. I just hope blood doesn't start flowing," Paukejová said earlier this week.
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