Ida Kelarová on warning shots fired near Roma children at music camp: The Czech Police refused to help us
Q: During this year's "Romano Drom" music camp for Romani children, eyewitnesses say they experienced attacks that involved "warning shots" being fired. Would you describe precisely what happened to us?
A: This summertime gathering involves various activities. One of the favorites is "Treasure Hunting", during which the children are all by themselves out in nature during the daytime (or rather, we monitor them at a distance without their knowing it) - they walk to various points and complete tasks, and the point of the game is that they demonstrate independence and overcome obstacles together, as one big family. The entire route is constructed so that the children actually must overcome the obstacles - they can't give up, otherwise they won't be able to proceed to the next point. When they finish, a reward in the form of a "treasure" awaits them.
Q: So the children were walking in groups? How many of them were at the summer camp?
A: This year we had a total of 60 children and they completed the tasks all together: One intention of the game is to bring the whole group closer together. The children made it to the last point in the treasure hunt by about 9:30 PM and they could see the recreation facility from where they were. Naturally, they were glad that they had completed the entire "mission", so they happily ran down the hiking path, which goes past the house of a person who lives above the recreational cottages where we were accommodated. The children were understandably in high spirits, so they were whooping with delight, but of course it only took them about a minute to run past that house. The gentleman living there sprang to his feet and began to shout at them ( and here I apologize for the vulgarisms): "You black Gypsies!", "F**k off!", etc. Then he fired his gun into the air.
Q: How did the chldren react?
A: The children at the front of the crowd didn't really hear him shouting, but those at the back of the crowd were naturally startled - they panicked and began to run even faster. We also heard the gunshots, so when the children made it to us we asked them what had happened and they described to us how the man had yelled foul things at them.
Q: Did you call the police?
A: At first we did not want to cause a fuss - "Cause unnecessary problems", as they say. We just informed the owners of the accommodation facility and agreed with them that we would wait to see how things developed. The next day was calm, but on Saturday at 8:30 AM the children were in their exercise class - there is a daily class to music that lasts a half an hour - and during that class the neighbor suddenly began firing warning shots again, three of them, and ran onto the campus of the facility, fortunately among us adults. Again, he began to curse us, this time targeting my husband, Desideria, who is the one who looks most Romani of all of us. He began cursing him as a "black m**********r", and a "fag", a "swine", everything possible. Here I would like to point out that this man was intruding on the grounds of a facility where he had no business being.
Q: Did he attack anybody physically?
A: Fortunately not, although he was apparently really doing his best to provoke a fight. It took my husband a lot of effort to control himself, but fortunately he remained calm, for which I am immeasurably glad. The neighbor finally left, and I called the police station in Varnsdorf. I described to them what had happened and asked them to come. The officer who answered the telephone, and whom I will not name at this juncture, said to me that I don't get to tell them what to do, that they have their procedures to follow, and then he just hung up.
Q: What does one do at such a moment?
A: I called the 158 number and told the officer that I had something to report and that somebody had to at least come take a look at what was going on there. "Is he shooting at the children?" was the first question they asked me. I said not yet, for the time being just into the air. Once again, I asked them to send somebody because we had 60 Romani children there. Suddenly the officer completely changed his tune and began to tell me that the gentleman who had fired the warning shots had already called them himself and announced that we were disturbing him, that "he hates Gypsyies", and that he would be shooting them. The police should have all of that recorded - I managed to get that information.
Q: What do you think the neighbor meant when he called the police about a disturbance?
A: Our summer camps are focused on teaching children concentration, discipline, and responsiblity. We want to give Romani people a good name, so we hammer into the children's heads that they should not do anything stupid and that they should behave politely. We expect Romani children to work three times as hard on themselves as non-Romani children, they have to. The children actually did their best and were very good, but unfortunately the weather wasn't good. However, that meant there really wasn't any way we might have disturbed the gentleman - when we rehearsed, for example, we drove to Rumburk and used a gymnasium there. I explained to the police officer that actually we were not "committing mischief", that we were not making noise, and that it was so cold we were spending the whole time indoors - for an entire 14 days the children hadn't been to the playground once. The police told me they still weren't coming. I explained to them that I had 60 children there, that I felt responsible for them, that their parents had trusted me with making sure nothing would happen to them. Then the officer asked me his second question, whether I knew what kind of gun the person was firing.
Q: That almost sounds like he was ridiculing you...
A: I told him, truthfully, that I have never held a firearm in my life, so I actually have no idea what kind of gun it was, and that they should find out. He
responded "Well, ma'am, we have procedures for that." When I asked him what they intended to do, he said it had to be handled by the relevant precinct, i.e., back in Varnsdorf, where they had hung up on me. I told him I didn't like that option and that even if they weren't going to investigate, it was still necessary for them at least to come calm everybody and assure them that we were safe there.
Q: Did they eventually show up?
A: No! Can you imagine? We had to go to the police station in Varnsdorf and ask for an official record to be made of the incident. Again, the officer who will remain anonymous was there, the one against whom we will be filing a complaint. He treated us absolutely crudely - he didn't greet us, he didn't introduce himself, and the first thing he told us was "We're not going to escalate this, we're not going to turn it into a Western". He not only made it clear that he does not know how to behave, but that he evidently wasn't interested in doing his job. In any event, his behavior was absolutely not how I imagine the police are supposed to work for us.
Q: How many people got involved with the police?
A: Four of us went there, because each of us had been at a different location when it all took place, but the officer at the station told us that just one testimony would be enough. Ultimately he did draw up an incident report. Then, because nothing happened for a very long time, we sent a complaint to Děčín, to a higher level. They told us they would investigate. Several days ago Mr Kadlec of the Czech Philharmonic, whose lawyers took up the task of communicating with the police, finally received a statement to the effect that the incident was a misdemeanor and that they would be dealing with it.
Q: Do you believe it was a misdemeanor?
A: Absolutely not - this was pure racial hatred. That atmosphere predominates, in my opinion, throughout the entire Šluknov area, which I have toured giving concerts, and I know tensions are heightened there. Something like this incident, though, we have never experienced before. For example in Rumburk, where we performed, our colleagues from the Czech Philharmonic went for coffee and heard people taking about "those shitty Gypsies" and "what a pity it is that Hitler didn't kill them off" and "what a shame it is that Hitler didn't live longer". Our colleagues were in shock. I am not a person who stands up for somebody just because he's Roma, but it startles me when this kind of hate is targeted at children who are actually model examples of behavior and to whom, moreover, we have been emphasizing that if they work on themselves, then they have the hope of a better life.
Q: Is this the worst summer camp experience you've ever had?
A: I consider myself a fair person. When I see a Romani person do something wrong, I am the first one to raise it with him. I want Romani children to be given more of a chance and for us all to have a better reputation. This year what happened was unfair to the children. We are teaching them something, we want them to represent Romani people, and these children this year actually were really doing their best. Their concerts were phenomenal - at least their efforts paid off there. Moments where our summer camp participants are targeted with envy and hatred are something we constantly experience, though. There were ladies on the organization team at one concert venue who were in the WC reserved for performers whispering to each other that the toilet paper was wasted on the "Gypsies" because using leaves should be enough for them. There was the town of Vsetín, where we took the children to a restaurant for lunch and half of the customers left the room and preferred to sit in the corridor. How are the children supposed to sing in the evenings after such an experience? It was also horrible that time in Hodonín when the children were assaulted on their way back to the accommodation after rehearsal. The people who attacked them actually kicked them.
Q: So they've experienced physical assaults before? What did the police do that time?
A: After 30 days they informed us that they had not managed to determine who committed the attack. We told them at the scene that they should find those responsible, but they preferred to spend four hours interrogating the children who had been beaten, keeping them awake until 5 AM. I am quite scandalized by these police who are supposed to be protecting us. We decided we will do something about this year's incident.
Q: The police inaction seems even more desperate than the fact that these aggressors exist...
A: Yes - the gentleman firing his gun doesn't even shock me that much, he's just a crazy person, although you never know what he might be capable of if his nerves give out. That the police did not even come to the scene, neither to calm us nor to ascertain what was actually happening, seems awful to me. Anybody who believes that our police are here to protect us is mistaken. I have learned, for example, that in Varnsdorf they had a female police officer who used to be in charge of the Romani agenda. After two years of work she managed to reduce Romani crime there by 80 %, and her reward was to be removed. The owner of the recreational facility also told us, for example, that his janitors noticed that our children were cleaning up after themselves much more, that they were more disciplined, etc. Despite that, throughout that entire region such an atmosphere predominates that nobody is allowed to say anything positive about Romani people - the only socially acceptable behavior is to nod your head in agreement with the universal hatred there.
Q: What was the impact of this incident on the children?
A: It's quite unfair: We're attempting to give them hope and then everybody else takes it away. Why isn't it possible to give them a chance? Why do people have such hatred in them? I know it's difficult to live in that area and that there's poverty, unemployment, etc., but we must all realize that how we arrange things among ourselves is what determines how things will be, after all. I'm still being persecuted by such hatred today, and I'm asking myself: Where will it lead?
Q: Did you have any good experiences this year, or have they all been erased by the bitterness of the unpleasant events?
A: Naturally we had good experiences - the concerts were very successful, the deployment of the whole program was the same as usual. The children coped and so did we. To perform our last piece we invited 35 local children and students to join us, and thanks to that meeting, to performing art together, those local children had the opportunity to form their own opinions of "Gypsies", and you can be sure their reactions were only positive. We performed the finale beautifully together. I believe we brought a big chunk of good will, hope and love to the Šluknov area. We are planning our next camp for the Vsetín area, because what Mayor Čunek is up to there doesn't strike us as good. In the autumn we will perform at the Rudolfinum on 7 October, but we also have five more concerts for primary and secondary schools scheduled. On 5 October a documentary film about last year's summer camp near Bardejov in Slovakia, where we performed in Romani settlements, will also be premiered. That film will be screened at the Světozor Cinema in Prague and Czech Television will broadcast it this fall as well.
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