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"Hate is No Solution" calls on Czech citizens to resolve inter-ethnic difficulties

Prague, 18.9.2011 17:11, (ROMEA)
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Members of the "Hate is No Solution" initiative (Nenávist není řešení) are warning that the situation in Šluknov district could continue to escalate and even more violence could break out there. In their view, problems in the region can only be handled if "all parties" start cooperating and discussing the issues in good faith. Activists with the initiative made the statement at a Prague press conference on Friday, calling on people from around the Czech Republic to join them and contribute toward resolving inter-ethnic difficulties both in the Šluknov foothills and in their own places of residence.

"During the last two years the quality of life has deteriorated in Šluknov district. Both sides are living in fear, and both sides are living in poor circumstances," said evangelical clergyman Mikuláš Vymětal, a member of the initiative.

The situation in North Bohemia has been tense for some time. At the start of August, things came to a head when five Romani people committed a machete attack against the staff of a gaming room in the town of Nový Bor. Two weeks later, another violent incident allegedly involving Romani perpetrators and non-Romani victims occurred in the town of Rumburk. Demonstrations and protest marches have occurred in response, some of which have transformed into attempted pogroms by ethnic Czechs against Romani residents. Police reinforcements were sent to the streets of North Bohemian towns because of the unrest. According to the head of the Organized Crime Detection Unit (Útvar pro odhalování organizovaného zločinu), Robert Šlachta, right-wing extremists are doing their best to exploit the situation.

Vymětal said non-Romani people who are essentially in the same situation as Romani residents - jobless and poor - have frequently been attending the anti-Roma demonstrations. "We know the complaints being made by local people are justified in many respects, but they are targeting the wrong audience. People should focus not on the Romani tenants of the residential hotels, but on the national and regional governments, demanding solutions from them," said activist Markus Pape. Josef Šmíd of the initiative said "neglected social work and relocations" are behind the problem.

The initiative believes that work should be done through "reconciliation methods", such as those used between enemy parties after a military conflict. The activists have already contacted a facilitator - a professional conflict mediator - to moderate any future discussions, and she has offered the assistance of experts from abroad. Monika Bunžová of the initiative said that in future a larger assembly could take place in the region where local people would be able to tackle everything together with professional guidance. Vymětal said the time is not yet ripe for such an event, however.

The leadership of the town of Varnsdorf held a discussion with residents on rising crime and violence yesterday. The initiative said on Friday that they had been considering encouraging Romani residents to attend that meeting, but abandoned the idea, given that they might need a police escort for their own protection. As it turns out, some Romani participants at the meeting were shouted down and subjected to abuse. Another anti-Romani demonstration was held in Varnsdorf after the meeting yesterday, organized by convicted con artist Lukáš Kohout.

For the time being the initiative has convened two gatherings to calm the situation in Nový Bor and Rumburk. Other groups have organized other events elsewhere. "Hate is No Solution" is not the only group doing its best to calm passions in the region. "Light for Šluknov District" (Světlo pro Šluknovsko), "Safe Home" (Bezpečí domova) and "We Don't Want Neo-Nazis in Ústí" (V Ústí neonacisty nechceme) are other initiatives working in the region.

"Hate is No Solution" considers the long-term solution to the crisis to be the abolition of the ghettos and the establishment of housing intended for the socially vulnerable. Activists also mentioned the fair distribution of money from the state budget to municipalities and regions. The initiative also believes that those who are party to the trade in stolen goods at pawn shops and salvage yards should be thoroughly prosecuted. Lastly, activists said it is necessary to modify the laws and rules governing collections and loans and to ban video poker machines.

Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková has expressed support for the initiative. However, she also made a point of stressing that she does not agree with all of the organizations involved.

ČTK, František Kostlán, Gwendolyn Albert, fk, Czech Press Agency, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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