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Czech Republic: Romani community reportedly pressured not to exercise freedom of speech

Sokolov/Prague, 12.6.2012 18:49, (ROMEA)

Miroslav Brož of the Hate is No Solution Initiative (Nenávist není řešení) is criticizing the Agency for Social Inclusion in Romani Localities over a report the Agency has released on security risks in socially excluded localities and the Agency's approach toward Romani people who want to organize public events. Brož claims the Agency is preventing Romani people from realizing such events. In an article entitled "Sad News" ("Smutná zpráva") in the online daily Deník referendum, Brož analyzes the Agency's overall approach to Romani integration. He discusses the specific case of Sokolov in another article in the daily.

"Because we have good relations with the Romani community in Sokolov, which we established during the neo-Nazi march through the nearby town of Rotava in the fall of 2011,... they asked us to help them pressure for an investigation into the death of Ľudovít Kašpar," says Brož. News server Romea.cz reported previously on this case from Kynšperk (Sokolov district), in which suspicions predominate that a Romani man died as a result of police brutality.

Brož goes on to say in his article: "We decided to jointly organize a gathering against hatred and racism featuring a program of dance and music. The gathering was supposed to take place on 23 June on the main square in Sokolov and we planned to present Romani culture to the majority population there. We also wanted to draw the attention of the media to the Kynšperk case. The speakers also wanted to talk about last year's marches in Varnsdorf, about the events in Břeclav, about the segregation of Romani children into the special (practical) schools, and about the industrial pig farm on the site of a former Romani concentration camp."

Brož goes on to report that on Friday 8 June, a meeting was held in Sokolov between representatives of the Czech Police, the municipal police, the municipality and the Agency. Vojtěch Pompa of Sokolov was present on behalf of the Romani community, as he was the person whose signature is on the announcement of the Romani action to the town hall. He is not, however, the main convener or organizer of the Romani rally (who lives in another town).

"At that meeting, where he was greatly outnumbered, they 'put him on the rack', so to speak, and he canceled the gathering, or rather, he moved it to a date dictated by the municipality. The form for canceling the gathering was already printed up for him, all he had to do was sign. On the new date the assembly is reportedly supposed to take place under the auspices of the town and the police, who even want to pay for the posters. The gathering will be dance and music only - no speeches, except maybe for the mayor," Brož said.

Brož is criticizing the Agency in this context for its paternalistic approach to Romani communities. He claims the Agency wants to integrate Romani people without their participation in developing or implementing ideas. Brož believes this also includes the Agency doing its best to make sure Romani communities do not advocate for their own views of matters and do not gather in the streets to defend themselves against extremism and racism.

News server Romea.cz has determined there are various claims being made in the "Sokolov case" which cannot be confirmed independently. There was no one unbiased at the meeting concerned, no one not involved with the participating initiatives, institutions and organizations.

"There were two local representatives of the Agency at the meeting, no one from Prague," Vojtěch Pompa told news server Romea.cz. Pompa says everyone present pressured him to change the date of the demonstration, but that people from the town hall pressured him most of all. As Pompa first told our reporters, everyone wanted him to move the rally to a different date, give the event a different name, and for the event to not mention racism. A discussion of the economic and social situation of Romani people would have been allowed. "In exchange, they promised me that someone would speak at the event about a project designed by the Labor Office to help employ local Romani people," Pompa said.

Agency director Martin Šimáček says he has learned from his subordinates that neither of them proposed changing the date or the topic of the demonstration. "They did not pressure anyone on those points, I guarantee it. Mr Pompa is said to be the person who proposed changing the date," Šimáček told news server Romea.cz, adding that his subordinates at the meeting supported the idea that the event should be nonviolent and peaceful. When asked about this description of events, Mr Pompa said: "After constant pressure from the other participants in the meeting, I finally proposed that we hold it one week later."

"It was a rational debate," Petr Kubis, Chief of the Sokolov Municipal Police, told news server Romea.cz. He said the town of Sokolov has a long history of getting along well with Romani residents. "I have been with the police 25 years and there is no problem with Romani people here, quite the opposite. We employ Romani people, we do crime prevention with them, and it works. We explained to Mr Pompa that on the day originally chosen, another important cultural event would be taking place and that it would be hard to combine with their event organizationally. We offered him a different date and told him we would help organize it and even make a financial contribution. Mr Pompa agreed. We didn't have any form printed up in advance, we just wrote it up on the spot," Kubis said.

"We already knew in advance there would be pressure for the event to not take place on the original date," Miroslav Brož told news server Romea.cz. "That was why we chose a person who does not live in Sokolov as the main convener of the event, which can still be realized on the original date of 23 June. If the Romani community in Sokolov still wants to demonstrate on that date, we will do everything in our power to help them. The fact that a town celebration is taking place on that day seems to us the ideal opportunity to reach as many people as possible. The entire event was always planned as nonviolent and peaceful. Hate is No Solution does not hold any other kind of event and does not intend to."

František Kostlán, Gwendolyn Albert, František Kostlán, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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