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Molotov cocktail attack on Roma in Ostrava

Ostrava, 15.3.2010 23:16, (ROMEA)

A Molotov cocktail was thrown into the home of a Romani family in the Bedřiška settlement in the city of Ostrava during the early hours of Sunday morning. No one was injured. Speaking at a press conference today, Tomáš Landsfeld, director of the Ostrava Police, said that so far there is no reason to believe extremists were behind the attack. The case is being investigated by a special 15-member team as one of reckless endangerment. An unidentified perpetrator threw the Molotov cocktail through the window of a bedroom in which a 14-year-old girl was sleeping.

"Unacceptable, shocking, insane – such events have no place in a normal society. I firmly believe this case will be successfully investigated,” commented Czech PM Jan Fischer.

"We are afraid. Mainly we fear for our children. We will be patrolling," Jiří Koller, whose house is immediately adjacent to the scene of the attack, told the Czech Press Agency.

The victimized family said a white car with tinted windows drove by just before the attack. "I heard that, but I don’t know anything more. They say it was impossible to see into the car," Koller said. Police have also begun investigating this information.

"An as-yet unidentified perpetrator threw it through the window pane - it did not explode,” said Radovan Vojta, chief detective in Ostrava. Since the bottle did not break on impact, the burning fluid did not spill or flare up. The wick was the only part on fire. "The occupants were lucky. Had the bottle broken, a fire would have started. The house would have caught fire very quickly and the blaze could have reached the neighboring family. As many as eight people were endangered,” Vojta said.

Ludmila Podraná, whose home it was, is also afraid. "Our 14-year-old daughter saved our lives. If she had not put it out in time, we would all have gone up in flames,” she told the Czech Press Agency with tears in her eyes, adding that she had immediately thought of the fate of little Natálka from Vítkov. Ludmila’s husband Dušan said they heard nothing during the attack. "Our daughter woke us up afterward. The bottle flew through the window over her bed. Shards of glass rained down on her. The bottle hit a table and then the floor, where the carpet started to burn. She threw a blanket down on it and put out the fire. Then we called the police,” he said.

Detectives are now waiting for the results of the expert examination; while they already have some initial results, they will have not definitive results until the end of the week. "What we can say is that this was a highly flammable chemical, a first-class combustible. For tactical reasons we do not want give more specifics,” Vojta said, adding that for the time being, according to the available information, there is no evidence that this was a racially motivated attack by right-wing extremists. "Nothing links this case to Vítkov - maybe just the fact that a Molotov cocktail was used. However, those have been used in other cases,” the police officer said.

"I must admit that despite all my experience with racially motivated attacks during the past 10 years, I am once again completely aghast both at the news of another arson attack in Ostrava-Bedřiška and even more aghast at the news that once again, a case of this sort has not been taken up by the homicide division at regional police level, but is being initially investigated by local, district-level detectives,” Markus Pape told news server Romea.cz.

Pape believes this approach unfortunately means the Czech Interior Ministry and Czech Police Presidium have still not yet learned anything from the Vítkov case and are continuing to minimize similar cases, which will only lead to other, similar crimes. "The main thing missing is a simple order by the police president that every arson attack on a residence should be immediately classified as attempted murder. That would make it possible to employ the necessary top-level staff, technicians and methods to successfully hunt down the perpetrators. It is simply unacceptable that someone has to suffer burn injuries before the police adequately respond,” Pape said.

Pape believes that unless such an order is issued, such crimes will have more and more tragic results and certain people will have even more of a feeling that there is no place for them in the state. "This republic is slowly but surely gaining a reputation abroad as Molotov cocktail country,” Pape told Romea.cz.

Other residents of the Bedřiška settlement, which is not solely Roma-occupied, were also frightened by the attack. "We are concerned, mainly for our children. We are going to stand watch here ourselves. We will take turns being on the telephone. If something happens, we will call the police,” resident Koller told the Czech Press Agency. However, police want to dissuade the Roma from forming their own militia. "That is not necessary. We have no information that another attack might occur. We have increased our patrol services in the locality,” police director Landsfeld said. He said police have also contacted social workers and activists from non-profit organizations who should be active on the scene in order to dissuade people from establishing a militia.

Kumar Vishwanathan, chair of the Life Together civic association, who has devoted himself to working with the Roma minority for many years, intends to participate in that effort. "There is no reason to take any desperate steps like starting militias, etc. We want to calm the situation so the police can do their work, because they proved themselves capable of it in the Vítkov case, thanks to which they also have the very strong trust of the people,” Vishwanathan said.

The Bedřiška settlement, the site of several wooden single-family homes, became the topic of intensive discussion five years ago. Then-Mayor Liana Janáčková and Vice-Mayor Jiří Jezerský made controversial statements about the Romani inhabitants of Bedřiška. "Give me a gun license and permission to shoot and I’ll go do it,” Jizerský said. Janáčková identified herself as a racist and spoke of “Gypsies breeding” and the use of dynamite or a high electric fence.

The comments were captured on a recording made during a meeting of the neighborhood housing department at which long-term residents of the settlement complained about the behavior of the Roma. Jezerský was even brought before the Ostrava District Court in connection with his remarks. The court acquitted him, saying he allegedly had not committed a crime. Janáčková was never prosecuted because the Czech Senate refused to strip her of immunity.

According to the Czech Labor Ministry, there are 10 similar ghettos in Ostrava predominantly occupied by Roma. As many as 6 600 people may be living in these areas. Most of the Roma were intentionally relocated to these areas in recent years. The majority of the adults in these areas are out of work; in some places, unemployment is 100 %. These families are dependent on welfare benefits. Usually residents of these areas have achieved only an elementary school education at the most. Loan-sharking thrives in many of the Ostrava localities, as do drug dealing, drug dependency, and shoplifting.

Last April arsonists attacked the home of a Romani family in Vítkov. Investigators found three Molotov cocktails had been thrown into the home. Three people were injured in the subsequent blaze. The most seriously injured was little Natálka, who was not yet two years old. She suffered extensive second and third-degree burns over 80 % of her body.

The trial of the four right-wing extremists from the Bruntál and Opava districts accused of the Vítkov arson will begin at the Regional Court in Ostrava on 11 May. The main hearing will involve extraordinary security measures. The men are accused of racially motivated attempted murder against more than one victim, including one child. They face up to 15 years in prison, but exceptional sentencing, including life sentencing, is also a possibility.

Selected cases of arson attacks on Romani family residences

11 July 1994 – In the Zelené údolí neighborhood of Jablonec nad Nisou, a small group of skinheads threw Molotov cocktails into an apartment occupied by a Romani family. A 12-year-old girl and her mother suffered severe burns during the attack. The others present escaped without injury.

4 February 1996 – In Krnov (Bruntál district) four youths, evidently skinheads, threw Molotov cocktails through the windows of two ground-floor apartments. One of the dwellings caught fire; it was not put out until firefighters responded. A second attack took place there on 16 February, when a different group of two new attackers attempted to set another house on fire. Six youths were charged with these racially motivated arsons (police investigated them as individuals). In 2002, the court gave four of the men suspended sentences; a fifth man, the oldest of them, was sentenced to three years in prison.

17 January 1998 – A group of assailants threw a Molotov cocktail into the ground-floor apartment of a five-member Romani family in Krnov (Bruntál district) in the early morning hours of 17 January. A 48-year-old woman suffered severe second and third-degree burns and a man suffered light injuries. The fire destroyed all of the fixtures in the apartment. One hour after this attack, an unidentified assailant set a personal vehicle owned by a Romani man on fire elsewhere in Krnov. Police charged three local youths with the first attack. In February 2002 the District Court in Krnov sentenced Radek Bedrim, a member of several neo-Nazi groups, to two years in prison without parole. The court acquitted his two accomplices for lack of evidence.

28 February 1998 – Another nighttime attack in Krnov; hooligans threw another Molotov cocktail through the window of a ground-floor apartment occupied by Roma. No one was injured.

19 October 1998 – At 2 AM, an unidentified perpetrator threw a Molotov cocktail into the flat of a four-member Romani family on Foerstrova street in the Mariánské Hory neighborhood of Ostrava. Residents managed to put out the fire and there were no injuries.

12 June 1999 – An unidentified arsonist set fire to a Roma dwelling in Plavy (Jablonec district) by throwing two Molotov cocktails through a closed window. A 22-year-old woman was sleeping in the room with her two-month-old son and two other children aged two and three when the curtains and valance caught fire.

14 July 2000 – A Romani family in Rokycany reported two skinheads attacked their single-family home with a Molotov cocktail in the evening. The bottle filled with gasoline hit the window frame and landed outside the house. No damage was caused to the targeted room in which three children were sleeping.

24 July 2002 – Unidentified arsonists threw two Molotov cocktails into a Roma-occupied home in the Hranice neighborhood of Karviná at around 23:00. One hit the front wall of the house and the parapet of the kitchen window while the second flew through an open window. Residents put out the fire. No one was injured.

30 June 2007 – Unidentified arsonists threw a Molotov cocktail into the home of a Romani family in Vrbno pod Pradědem at around 23:00. Five people were in the house, two adults and three children. No one was injured.

21 September 2008 – Kitchen fixtures were set on fire after someone threw a Molotov cocktail into the ground-floor apartment of a Romani family in Bruntál. Five people were sleeping there at the time, no one was injured.

19. April 2009 – Arsonists attacked the single-family home of a Romani family in Vítkov (Opava district). Police say three Molotov cocktails were thrown into the house. Three people were injured during the subsequent blaze. The most serious injuries were suffered by a girl who was not quite two years old and sustained second and third-degree burns over 80 % of her body. Four right-wing extremists from Bruntál and Opava districts have been charged with racially motivated attempted murder. Their trial is to begin in May.

24 May 2009 - In Zdiby u Prahy, arsonists attacked a Romani family, throwing two Molotov cocktails into their home. Nothing happened to the family members, who succeeded in putting the fire out in time.

24 September 2009 – The Prima television station reported that attackers threw a Molotov cocktail at a Roma-occupied home in Mikulov, South Moravia. No one was injured. The time of the attack was not reported.

15 March 2010 – In the early morning hours of 14 March, someone threw a Molotov cocktail into the home of a Romani family in the Bedřiška settlement in Ostrava. Residents succeeded in putting out the fire and no one was injured. A special police team is investigating the case as one of reckless endangerment.

ČTK, Gwendolyn Albert, Zdeněk Ryšavý, ryz, Czech Press Agency, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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