Mob of ethnic Czechs tries to attack Romani residents in Varnsdorf
Several hundred ethnic Czechs marched through the town of Varnsdorf for two hours yesterday in an attempt to attack Romani residents of the Sport residential hotel. Approximately 250 people assembled on the town square and hundreds more joined the mob as it proceeded through town. Police eventually closed down all streets leading to the residential hotel before 19:00 and halted the protesters.
The protest gathering against the allegedly rising number of incidences of crime being perpetrated by Romani people in the Šluknov foothills was convened by the neo-Nazi "Free Youth" (Svobodná mládež) movement and was not announced to officials. Local Romani people gathered at the residential hotel in the afternoon in order to prevent any eventual attack.
The mob met on the square at 17:00 and started marching to the residential hotel a few minutes later, where around 150 local Romani people were waiting for them. Police did their best to prevent the mob's advance and a street war was unleashed in the town. Whenever those at the head of the march encountered riot officers, the rest separated and took a different route. Ethnic Czechs broke through a police cordon on one of the bridges across the Mandava, but riot officers succeeded in halting their advance after only a few meters.
Police were in control of the situation until approximately 18:00, when the mob did its best to march through to the residential hotel near the Velveta factory. Parked vans blocked off the street about 50 meters from the residential hotel, closing the mob in on both sides. Some of the marchers, primarily children and girls, were gradually released, and police eventually let the rest of the mob go as well. Some people attempted to get through to the residential hotel from other directions, but all access roads were closed. The situation started to calm down at about 19:00.
The demonstration was the second to take place in a short space of time in the town of 16 000. Roughly 500 people had also marched through the town on Friday. Police kept the mob away from problematic localities and did not let them reach the Sport residential hotel. The mob gradually dispersed after that.
"Local people are very upset. This problem has been insufficiently addressed for years, and people are taking to the streets," Romana Macová, spokesperson for the Varnsdorf town hall, told the Czech Press Agency. The town estimates the number of demonstrators at 500. "Those two camps of people would not be facing off against one another under normal circumstances, this has been made possible by legislation full of loopholes and a generational shift, we have a generation of children here who have never seen their parents work," she added. The town is preparing partial measures to address the situation on the model of the Czech town of Litvínov, such as banning the consumption of alcohol in public areas.
Police officers detained some of the most active demonstrators near the Velveta factory yesterday, and another five people had also previously been detained at the police station. Those taken in included the organizer of Friday's rally, Lukáš Kohout, who was released in time to call on demonstrators to march the next day. Most people were detained for refusing to obey police instructions, assaulting a police officer, or kicking police vehicles.
Local ethnic Czechs consider the police intervention to be yet another wrong the white majority must suffer in the Šluknov foothills. "Where were you when you were supposed to protect us?" was the mob's most frequent message for police officers. Some of the ethnic Czechs also shouted racist abuse and calls for Romani people to be sent to the gas chambers.
The marchers were led by a group of several dozen neo-Nazis, but most of them were local residents. "Once again there were many children and women in the crowd, which is why we could not intervene more harshly," Jarmila Hrubešová, regional police spokesperson, told the Czech Press Agency. A police helicopter monitored the situation from above. Police say Saturday's march involved approximately the same number of people as on Friday, when roughly 500 ethnic Czechs set off for the residential hotel after attending a demonstration on the town square that had been announced to authorities.
Romani people started gathering in front of the residential hotel before the demonstration. More than 100 Roma vociferously assured one another that they would defend the building against any eventual neo-Nazi attack. "A gathering like that is customary during such events," Hrubešová said.
The Sport, which is a corner building built during the first half of the 20th century, was originally a bourgeois hotel. Today it is occupied by Romani tenants and the neighborhood around it is usually lively long into the night. Yesterday several dozen ethnic Czech demonstrators were still standing in front of the hotel at 20:30 with the police guards, but the situation was calm.
Starting in the morning, police patrols were deployed on roads into town and at the German border to search cars for weapons. More than 300 police were supervising security in the town. Officers confiscated an ax, a baseball bat, a shovel handle and five rods from the cars they searched. The announcement of the march had been disseminated during the week by neo-Nazi websites and was never officially announced to the authorities. Various right-wing groups are exploiting the dissatisfaction of locals for their own publicity, according to Hrubešová.
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