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Czech trial finally reveals what launched anti-Romani demonstrations in 2013

4.12.2016 14:22
During an anti-Romani assembly at the Máj housing estate in České Budějovice on 13 July 2013, police officers detained as many as 60 people who refused to leave the scene after police instructed them to. (PHOTO:  ČTK)
During an anti-Romani assembly at the Máj housing estate in České Budějovice on 13 July 2013, police officers detained as many as 60 people who refused to leave the scene after police instructed them to. (PHOTO: ČTK)

Three years ago the Czech Republic experienced an unprecedented phenomenon - for several Saturdays in a row, thousands of citizens in a particular city engaged in street battles with police. The South Bohemian metropolis of České Budějovice had never experienced anything like it.

How could such a thing have happened? I recently published a first analysis of this here on Romea.cz, and after receiving the full transcripts of the various verdicts that resulted from these events I have put together this second analysis, which includes all of the relevant findings.

Tensions at the Máj housing estate in České Budějovice had been seething for some time. During its construction during the 1980s and 1990s, the city decided, in addition to using prefabricated apartment blocks, to delay completion of the construction of the central core of the estate, which, according to the original project, was meant to serve as a recreation space.

Of course, the consequence of that was to prolong the construction work, which caused a burden for residents that persists to this day. The first sign of this is the lack of sufficient parking spaces for the number of occupants, or the deterioration in nighttime quiet, which is a consequence of a lack of an indoor space for recreational activities for local youth.

More recently local youth have been served by a newly-built community center directly on the housing estate. The trigger of the 2013 unrest, however, was a banal conflict on the younger children's playground on 21 June of that year.

The media, immediately after the incident, described it as a racially-motivated, violent clash between parents that turned into a mass brawl. That version of events was willingly taken up (or rather, never refuted), by local police, which either caused significant concerns or intensified existing ones among the local residents about their security.

On 18 July 2013, Jiří Matzner, spokesperson for the police in České Budějovice, released a report stating that a young woman had been assaulted at the playground during the incident. That news caused significant waves, and when police then announced that none of the suspects in the incident had been taken into custody, the cup of people's emotions flowed over and they took to the streets to protest "Gypsy violence" for several Saturdays in a row.

Hundreds of police officers, lifted from various regions around the country, prevented angry non-Romani mobs from entering the territory of the housing estate so that clashes would not occur between them and the Romani targets of the people's anger. The "white" demonstrators subsequently "took it out" on the "white" riot police.

During these incidents, dozens of police officers were injured, at least one of them seriously. Local police did their best over the months to come to clarify the original conflict at the playground but never publicized their final version of what happened.

The Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion rapidly commissioned an academic study that was supposed to analyze the situation at the housing estate and serve as a basis for addressing the exacerbated situation. That study, however, never researched the perspectives of the local residents, nor did it review the circumstances of how the conflict arose at the playground, presenting instead the various results of previous studies that were available online at the time or in the files of local authorities.

What the courts found

One year after the unrest, the trial began of the case from the playground before the District Court in České Budějovice. A total of eight persons were charged, including the young woman who had been mentioned by police initially.

Since at the time of the conflict she was not yet 18, the trial was held in closed session, which meant representatives of the media and the public could not attend. At a time when public interest in the causes of this long-ago conflict had already visibly diminished, the announcement of the verdict could only be attended by the family members of those involved.

The media, which just briefly quoted the announcement of the verdict, to this day does not yet have the entire wording of the verdict in that case, as it is only available to those involved. Let's take a look, therefore, at how the court described the course of the conflict at the playground in its verdict.

Below I present the court's version, which I have slightly adapted to make it easier to comprehend. I have added the ethnic origins of the main actors involved to clarify who escalated the conflict and who tried to end it by leaving, and I have added the full name of the main actor in the conflict.

Conflict at the playground, according to the court

In the early evening of 21 June 2013, on the playground between the prefabricated apartment buildings, a conflict that has not been precisely described took place between the five-year-old son of [ethnic Romani woman] K.L. and the three-and-a-half-year-old son of the brother of [an ethnic Czech woman], the juvenile K.O. [It is K.O. who was in the early stages of pregnancy at the time, which was not possible to discern at first glance.]

In front of at least eight other persons, these women then verbally assaulted each other. K.O. challenged another Romani woman with the initials I.B. to approach her and then assaulted her "physically by striking blows with her hand".

Subsequently, [ethnic Czech man] Tomáš Doul, the boyfriend of K.O., arrived at the playground and began trying to find out who had given his girlfriend "scratches on her neck". For absolutely no reason, Doul began to attack [an ethnic Romani woman] L.V., who had so far not been involved and was sitting on the edge of the sandbox, slapping her, and she returned the slaps.

L.V. suffered bruises to her face and to the right side of her trunk, as well as rupture of her right eardrum, which usually takes about three weeks to heal and necessitates time off work. After that, the [ethnic Romani women] L.V., I.B. and K.L. wanted to leave the sandbox area and began to leave, but the [ethnic Czech women] K.O. and her mother, P.O., disagreed with that.

K.O. and P.O. called upon Doul to prevent the [ethnic Romani woman] K.L. from leaving, which he did physically, and the [ethnic Czech] father of K.O., whose initials are J.H., went after them and warned Doul not to let himself be provoked. Doul and K.L. then physically assaulted each other in the vicinity of a nearby news stand.

During that conflict, K.O. first ran over, shouting at K.L. "you don't get to beat my guy", and then the daughter of K.L., whose initials are K.L., Jr, ran over with her common-law husband, R.B., and then K.L., Jr and K.O. assaulted each other.  k.L. also struck K.O. in the face with her hand and they both fell to the ground, continuing to attack each other and to pull each other's hair, and K.O. bit K.L. in the belly.

As a result, K.O. suffered a stable fracture of her nasal bones, superficial head injuries, abrasions and bruises in various parts of her body which customarily take around 10 days to heal (in the case of the fractured nose) and require time off work, and K.L. suffered superficial facial injuries and bruises to her abdominal wall. During the conflict between K.L. and K.O., Doul inserted himself.

K.L. hit Doul on the head with a scooter, and he tore it out of her hand. The scooter broke, at which juncture Doul threw it away.

Doul then grabbed K.L. and pushed her to the ground, where he held her down. The boyfriend of K.L., named R.B., also wanted to insert himself into the ongoing conflict between K.L., Jr. and K.O., but he was prevented from doing so by J.H.

When J.H. pulled R.B. away and both of them fell to the ground, R.B. extricated himself and left the scene of the conflict. A police patrol then arrived at the scene, and when the officers stepped out of their vehicle, nobody was engaged in physical conflict any longer, but verbal assaults continued, although the perpetrators of those were never identified.

The court's summary description of this incident does not include a fact that is mentioned at a different place in the verdict, which is that Doul, who was 20 years old at the time, was well-known to local police. As a recidivist, he was, at the time of this crime, on parole for the third time.

Even though this incident shows that Doul was obviously continuing to commit criminal activity, he was never taken into custody and the District Court simply convicted him and gave him yet another suspended sentence. The state prosecutor did not believe that to be the correct approach and appealed that verdict.

Last year the Regional Court agreed and sent Doul to prison for one year. It is worth nothing that just two weeks after the conflict on the playground, Doul repeatedly physically assaulted police officers who were intervening against the violent protesters demonstrating "for the rights of whites"  as a result of the media frenzy unleashed by this incident.

Charges and sentences against Tomáš Doul:

15 February 2012: property damage - suspended sentence of 10 - 28 months

16 August 2012: threatening others with danger, rioting - suspended sentence on both counts of eight to 24 months

25 February 2013: cumulative theft - suspended sentence of eight to 24 months

12 March 2014: violence against an official and rioting (at a demonstration) - suspended sentence of 24 - 36 months

3 December 2014: rioting, bodily harm (on the playround), violence against an official (at more than one demonstration) - cumulative on all counts, suspended for 18 - 30 months

6 May 2014: For all of these crimes, on the basis of an appeal by the state prosecutor, for reasons of having committed a high number of felonies - cumulative sentence of 12 months in maximum-security prison.

The District Court acquitted three of the other defendants in this incident because it had not been proven that they had committed any crime. Five got suspended sentences.

Both K.L., Jr and K.O. appealed their verdicts. Each injured women insisted the other was to blame and sought ("reciprocal") financial compensation for their physical injuries sustained.

The appeals court upheld the first-instance verdict, which then took effect. This means neither K.L., Jr nor K.O. are entitled to any compensation.

Who committed crimes deserving of prison time? The white male agressor.

Local police could have prevented the subsequent outbreak of all the unrest that followed this incident if, immediately after the conflict at the playground, they would have informed the public that the catalyzer of it had been a "white" recidivist and proposed that he be taken into custody - had they done that, emotions there would certainly not have escalated as they did. Unlike the court, however, I do not have any information about whether Doul remained at the scene after the playground conflict and the arrival of police, or whether the witnesses to the conflict managed to identify him and provided the police with his name immediately after the crimes were committed.

Ultimately, it is also significant whether the detectives believed the description of the conflict they received from the Romani eyewitnesses, or whether they dismissed that testimony and made the usual claim that nobody ever believes Romani people anyway. I cannot assess that issue without better knowledge of the case file.

In any event, it is certain that the local police significantly intensified the concerns of local non-Romani residents about their Romani neighbors when they did not immediately refute the version of events offered by Doul - which instantly became widespread online after the conflict - that it was "Gypsies" at the playground who had assaulted an "innocent", pregnant white woman. The police could at least have cast doubt on that version of events, given that they had not yet clarified what happened during the actual course of the conflict.

At that time the police knew, at a minumum, that the conflict had not been one-sided. They also could certainly have proposed taking some of the parties to the conflict into custody.

Markus Pape, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Tags:  

antigypsyism, České Budějovice, Demonstrace, Extremism



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