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Czech tabloid report on Romani political party may be a hoax

Prague / Ústí nad Labem, 19.2.2012 19:28, (ROMEA)

The political tabloid Parlamentní listy (PL) reported on Thursday, 9 February that a political party had been established in Ústí nad Labem called the European Romani Party (Evropská romská strana - ERS) and had been robbed by its Prague-based treasurer. PL reported that the treasurer had collected signatures for the new political party in Ústí 14 days previously, along with "CZK 100 from each future member for a membership card". He is then said to have not attended the party's constitutive assembly. PL published the report under the headline "Roma establish party and already have a problem: Their treasurer has disappeared with the money".

The news desk of Romea.cz has done its best for a full week to verify the information reported in the PL article and did not succeed. While it cannot be unequivocally stated that the report is sheer invention (a journalistic hoax), there are several important indications that it may have been.

The article is written in such a way that the information it presents could either not be verified at all or would take a great deal of effort to track down. For example, the place where the European Romani Party is said to have held its meeting was not described concretely or directly, but as follows: "He never made it to the agreed place… About 30 Romani people met up in the lounge of a famous restaurant in the center of the North Bohemian town... said Ján Slepčík of the Krásné Březno neighborhood in Ústí nad Labem, who left the House of Culture in what was obviously a bad mood… ."

The Ústí nad Labem Cultural Center runs the centrally-located House of Culture and the National Building, which includes a restaurant, but knows nothing about any such meeting. "I don't know anything about such an event taking place in our establishment," Petr Špás, the person responsible for renting space at the center, told news server Romea.cz. "I even asked my colleague who does other events with Romani people and she knows nothing about it."

Our news desk did not succeed in tracking down any other House of Culture in the center of Ústí nad Labem. Several people have informed us there is only one. If the ERS convention took place in another restaurant in the town center, it is not clear why the author writes about the House of Culture elsewhere in the article (and vice versa).

The only other information that might have been verifiable under normal circumstances are three of the names mentioned in the article (the fourth, "Jan Horváth of Prague", does not include enough information to be easily verifiable). The three names are "Ján Slepčík of the Krásné Březno neighborhood in Ústí nad Labem", "Mária Ratyániová of Předlice", "Ján Minár, who has lived in Ústí nad Labem more than 30 years".

The existence of these people, however, cannot be verified. Romea.cz contacted many Romani people living in Ústí nad Labem and its environs, but none of them knew these three people. Moreover, none of the Romani people with whom we spoke knew anything about the alleged creation of the European Romani Party.

"I don't know anything about this matter, but I assume that if a Romani political party were to be established in Ústí nad Labem, it would take off. I used to be the Romani Affairs Coordinator and people constantly turn to me to consult about various matters, so it is highly probable I would have heard of this," Lenka Balogová, who works for the Counseling Center for Citizenship, Civil and Human Rights (Poradna pro občanství, občanská a lidská práva) in Krásné Březno told Romea.cz.

Balogová contacted many people from Krásné Březno herself, but none know the "Ján Slepčík" whose testimony is reported by Parlamentní listy. Balogová's words have been confirmed by two members of the Slepčík family living in Krásné Březno. "There is no Ján Slepčík living in Krásné Březno," they each independently told Romea.cz.

None of the Romani people contacted know Ján Minár either, whom PL reports as having lived in Ústí "more than 30 years", nor Mária Ratyániová of Předlice. "We asked around all of the long-term residents of Předlice and the newer residents for someone named Mária Ratyániová, but we never found her," said Martin Cichý of the Romano Jasnica association, which is based in Trmice, the quarter immediately adjacent to Předlice.

Romea.cz has done its best to verify this report by asking for more information from Parlamentní listy, such as the exact place of the founding meeting and contacts to the people named in the article. PL sent us this answer from the author of the article, Václav Prokůpek: "Naturally I have photos and a Dictaphone recording, but I refuse to give you my contacts on principle, I am a freelancer."

We received the same response from the director of PL, Jan Holoubek, during a phone conversation wherein he also claimed PL has an audio recording and photographs of the meeting. However, in a follow-up e-mail, he was silent about the photographs, guaranteeing instead that the report about the meeting is authentic and that if anyone claims otherwise, PL can publish the audio recording of the event.

If the author of the article really does have photographs from this alleged party meeting, it is a mystery why PL did not use them. Instead, the paper accompanied the article about this supposed incident in Ústí with photographs from the meeting of the Statewide Association of Romani People in the Czech Republic (Celostátní asociace Romů ČR), which took place in October of last year in Brno.

There is one more peculiarity about this article. The European Romani Party is said to have met on Thursday, 9 February, at 18:00. Those present certainly must have waited for any latecomers to arrive, and they certainly must have waited for the treasurer, Ján Horváth from Prague, who has allegedly robbed them. They then probably discussed what is going on and what will happen next. The report about this meeting, however, was published by Parlamentní listy at 19:33 that same day!

Local police have also begun investigating this case. Even though they used all of the options available to detectives, they did not succeed in finding anything. "We have not yet succeeded in verifying a single piece of information from the Parlamentní listy article about the European Romani Party and its robbery," First Lieutenant Jaroslav Dlask, the head of the state police in Trmice, which also is responsible for Předlice, told Romea.cz.

Almost all of the Czech media have reprinted the Parlamentní listy report without making any effort at all to verify it. The media should be interested in Parlamentní listy supplying further information to verify its claims that a European Romani Party was founded and then allegedly robbed. The ball is now in PL's court.

František Kostlán, Gwendolyn Albert, Patrik Banga, František Kostlán, Patrik Banga, translated by Gwendolyn albert
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