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Minister Kocáb criticizes Mayor of Chomutov over Roma meeting

Prague, 9.5.2009 12:07, (ROMEA)

Czech Human Rights and Minorities Minister Michael Kocáb is criticizing Mayor of Chomutov Ivana Řápková (ODS) over her response to a gathering of Roma who demonstrated against extremism and neo-Nazism on 3 May. About 80 right-wing radicals attempted to disrupt the event. According to Kocáb, the mayor, instead of condemning the neo-Nazis as might be expected, reprehended the Roma for their flawed organization of the gathering and said the town would not be permitting any further meetings. In a statement made available to ČTK, Kocáb writes that it was the Chomutov town hall that failed to ensure protection for the peaceful gathering and that the mayor is continuing to play "dirty pool" with the issue.

Kocáb participated in the Chomutov meeting. "The police, who obviously had not counted on the arrival of the neo-Nazis, only managed to establish order after a long period of time. Neo-Nazi web servers announced their plan to disorganize the vigil in advance," he said.

Kocáb rejects Řápková's stance on the issue. In his view it is the mayor's responsibility to provide security for a properly announced and permitted demonstration. "I am convinced that Mayor (Jan) Kubata took an exceptionally responsible approach to the mayhem in Ústí nad Labem and I do not understand why Ms Řápková cannot handle the same responsibility. If she underestimated the situation and let it get out of hand, she should apologize to the organizers of the demonstration, not attack Article 19 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees freedom of assembly," he said.

Kocáb supports the effort of Roma associations and human rights organizations to investigate the failure of the town and the police. "That initiative arose on the day after the clashes in Chomutov, and the associations have been communicating from the very beginning with the government and the town hall. I will follow how the investigation develops," Kocáb said.

The mayor justified her ban on any other demonstrations by saying she is concerned for the safety of the citizens of the town. "We want quiet in Chomutov, and therefore we will not be permitting any demonstrations, whether by Roma or by left or right-wing extremists," the mayor told ČTK earlier. The town halls of Plzeň, Litvínov and Ústí nad Labem have previously attempted to ban marches or demonstrations by right-wing radicals, but the courts have overturned those bans.

However, in Chomutov, according to Řápková, the situation is different, because the local ODS and ČSSD organizations have announced their own events on the central square until mid-October. "Unless both of those entities give their auspices, the administrative body will have to ban any other events at that same place. By giving up its place to the Roma on Sunday, ODS clearly showed whose side it is on. However, given the incidents that occurred during the demonstration, ODS will not take the same approach again," she explained.

The Roma demonstration, which at the same time held a collection for victims of the arson attack on 19 April in Vítkov u Opavy, took place at the same time in several towns. However, in Chomutov neo-Nazis attempted to attack the roughly 100 demonstrators. They yelled the slogans "Bohemia for the Czechs" or "Nothing but the nation" at the Roma and threw flares at them. Police prevented a clash.

This is not the first time Kocáb has criticized Mayor Řápková. He disapproved of the town in mid-February when it began using collections agents to confiscate emergency material benefits from debtors collecting the benefits in person at the town hall.

Gwendolyn Albert, CTK, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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