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December 14, 2019
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Czech Republic: Roma afraid in town where ultra-right is in government

Duchcov, 10.12.2014 19:57, (ROMEA)
Nádražní Street in Duchcov is where Romani people gathered during the first anti-Romani demonstration targeting them there and put on cultural events with the aid of activists. Štefan Horvát, a field social worker, is second from the left. (Photo:  František Kostlán)
Nádražní Street in Duchcov is where Romani people gathered during the first anti-Romani demonstration targeting them there and put on cultural events with the aid of activists. Štefan Horvát, a field social worker, is second from the left. (Photo: František Kostlán)

Duchcov is one of the towns in the Czech Republic where today there are usually problems with interethnic coexistence. However, over the long run the situation there has been better than the larger cities of Ostrava or Ústí nad Labem.

An incident in which several Romani residents of Duchcov brutally beat up a Czech couple was the exception, and it prompted a series of anti-Romani demonstrations in response. Even after the first such protest in Duchcov, Romani people and "white" residents who had just attended the anti-Romani demonstration could still be found sitting together in the pub on Nádražní Street, where Czech and Romani women who were friends were talking together.

At that time the locals could still manage to discuss what was bothering them with each other. It was clear that before the violent incident, ordinary communication between neighbors had been the rule.

Today the situation in Duchcov is different. The Romani family whose members committed the violence has moved out of town, but the rest of the Romani residents there are still bearing the brunt of the local reaction.

Now one of  Duchcov's town councilors is a person who recently posted to Facebook that he wants to murder all the Roma off - the chair of the Duchcov cell of the Workers' Social Justice Party (DSSS), Jindřich "Pinďa" Svoboda. He has been invited to be the tie-breaker on the local executive by the Communists (KSČM) and Social Democrats (ČSSD).

Everyone says these local politicians understand one another when it comes to their political programs. That is why we decided to visit Duchcov and find out whether Romani residents are taking in an interest in the new situation on the town council and whether they are concerned about this combination of the ČSSD, the DSSS and the KSČM.

Romani residents taking an interest too late

"Romani people are interested, they saw it on television, they heard it on the radio. However, what is sad is that they took no interest before the elections. Many of them didn't even go vote. I even heard from several families that the owner of the properties where they are living in the south of town told them that they could only go vote if they voted for ex-Mayor Bártová's 'Chance for Duchcov' group, but I don't know whether that's 100 % true," muses Štefan Horvát, a field social worker who aids local Romani residents in Duchcov.

The most questions are now being asked about the possible consequences of the fact that Svoboda, who was organizing anti-Romani demonstrations in Duchcov until not long ago, is now a municipal councilor. Are locals asking those questions out of curiosity, or fear?

"They're asking because they have concerns. Jindřich Svoboda and his chums are known to everyone here,"  Horvát says.

Concerns

Those concerns can be seen in the degree of willingness among the Romani residents we contacted to "answer" our questions. "I have to go to lunch and to the bathroom," a young Romani man said when he heard that our question was about the post-election composition of the local council.

During our wanderings through Duchcov, several other Romani residents we reached out to also wouldn't answer our questions. It was hard to blame them - after all, they have to live there.

"I don't know why Mayor Šimbera invited that DS[SS] into the executive when it was Svoboda who stirred up the most hype here. I'm afraid, and I'm not the only one - all of the Roma in Duchcov are afraid," says local Romani resident Helena Kaločaiová.

What does she fear the most? "They are there to enforce what they want, and the authorities already treat us like dogs sometimes," says Kaločaiová.

Before the elections she liked the Social Democrats, but now she will not be voting for them again. "Even Sobotka [the ČSSD chair] doesn't like what Mr Šimbera is doing, but the mayor doesn't care," she says.

It could not have turned out worse

Kristina Horvátová, a mother of seven, is definitely not satisfied with the elections. "It is the worst possible outcome," she says.

Horvátová believes that prior to the elections, everything was 100 % worse than even just two years ago, and she is concerned it will deteriorate further. "Everything is worse, included relations between people, who are sometimes on edge. Other things could get even worse - for example, as part of their 'zero tolerance' policy, they will be sending more social workers to inspect our households," she said.

Roma out of town

According to Horvátová and the other local Roma, the town hall has been trying for some time to push Romani residents out of the town. Many have already moved away, primarily those who are the most impoverished.

"They are going to Bílina or Ústí nad Labem. However, I believe that even Roma who are not that poor will be pushed out of town, that the pressure will affect us all," Horvátová says.

These concerns were confirmed by another field social worker who didn't want his name published. "After the town privatized its housing stock, Romani people slowly began to leave, because once the private landlords threw them out of their apartments, the town did not help rehouse them," he says.

Are the Roma so terrible?

Are things so bad with the Roma in Duchcov that the democratic parties have to invite right-wing extremists in to help? "I don't think so. We are people who know how to adapt. It's worse with the Czechs who tar us all with the same brush," Horvátová says self-confidently.

"We aren't doing anything bad here, there aren't even any exaggerated displays of the culture of poverty here. Duchcov has just made up its mind, there are people here who are mainly bothered by Romani people just because they are Romani," the social worker is convinced.

He takes a dim view of the situation in town. "Neither the locals nor Prime Minister Sobotka could prevent the coalition of the ČSSD and DSSS in Duchcov, they are absolutely sure of themselves and that's how they're going to govern. Now they're going to do whatever they like," he says.

It's our fault too

Everyone we talked to agreed that local Roma were also responsible for the situation themselves to a certain degree, because they take little interest in public affairs there, including elections. "After the elections is too late to lament this, they should have taken an interest beforehand. The more educated Romani people could have not just run for office, but also could have gradually involved the others in taking an interest in public affairs," says Horvátová.

František Kostlán, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Duchcov, Komunální volby 2014, Romani people, situace ve společnosti



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