New Czech film claims Romani youths did not assault man who shot them
On Sunday 10 March at 20:00 CET, Czech Television will be broadcasting a documentary film by Vít Klusák and Filip Remunda, "Life and Death in Tanvald" (Život a smrt v Tanvaldu) on its ČT2 channel. Against the background of seeking to learn the truth about the scandalous killing of a young Romani man in the early morning hours of New Year's Day 2012, the documentary filmmakers show us a town riddled with intolerance and unemployment.
A local citizen allegedly shot 22-year-old Ladislav, the father of two young children, in self-defense. The film draws attention to new facts in the case which attorney Robert Pelikán says could lead to police reopening it.
The filmmakers followed life in Tanvald all of last year. They interviewed locals at the swimming pool and a municipal ball, spoke with the family of the deceased, Ladislav Tatár, and with gunman Jan Sieber.
Through the father of the deceased, the filmmakers managed to capture on audio a description of the tragedy from the mouth of an eyewitness who has carefully been kept secret. The Czech media speculated about the existence of a witness just after the incident occurred.
What this person has now said in the film is completely at odds with the conclusions of the investigation conducted under the supervision of then-Deputy Regional State Prosecutor Lenka Bradáčová. The eyewitness told the victim's father that his sons did not assault the shooter.
"They came toward each other and grabbed on to one another. I did not see anything like the two of them attacking him from behind. They were facing off against one another, they weren't down on the ground. Then when they started fighting they fell to the ground and shots rang out," the secret witness describes the incident.
"Sieber says they attacked him from behind with a knife,"the father of the deceased responds, to which the eyewitness says: "No, I didn't see anything like that. They fell on their sides and [Ladislav] was on top of him. Then Páťa ran up [Editor's Note: The brother of the shooting victim] and the shooting started."
The eyewitness gives an interesting response when asked whether he told that same story to the police during their reconstruction of the incident. "Like that," he answers softly, adding that he does not know whether his description was precisely the same.
The official version of events is that the two Romani youths attacked a non-Romani pensioner shortly after midnight on New Year's Day with a knife. The pensioner defended himself from a prone position with a legally licensed pistol, shooting one assailant to death and injuring the other.
"New evidence has turned up and some of it is shown in the film.... For example, we are of the opinion that police were mistaken about one important clue, the knife," attorney Robert Pelikán told news server iDNES.cz after the film was screened at the Bio Oko cinema in Prague. He did not want to reveal other details for the time being.
"I have found enough evidence, but I don't want to reveal it yet. The attorney and I are waiting until the film is broadcast on 10 March on Czech Television and then we will draw the attention of the state prosecutor to it and hope it will be enough to reopen the investigation," the victim's father told iDNES.cz after the Prague screening.
Seeking the reasons for Czech xenophobia
The film is not only a detective story about searching for the truth about the shooting scandal, but is also about searching for the reasons behind Czech xenophobia. Filip Remunda and Vít Klusák agree that this film was possibly the most difficult one they have ever made.
"You're making a film about someone's unfortunate death and your hands are tied by two opposing concerns: That the film will lack empathy, which will harm the Romani community, which has already been beaten down, or on the other hand that it will end up like a textbook multi-culti pamphlet celebrating Romani people and condemning the white majority for being xenophobic dunces," Klusák told the press.
Some of the opinions expressed by the "white" Czechs in the documentary are clearly racist. Äll of the "white" Czechs, from a coat-checker at the ball to a local political representative, say Romani people "bum around and live off of welfare".
From teenagers at the local swimming pool the filmmakers learn that "gypsies" should go to their own swimming pool. Paradoxically, the same teenager then claims that when Ladislav was shot dead, she cried because he was a friend of hers.
The coat-checker at the ball makes no secret of the fact that she approves of the killing of the Romani youth. Gunman Jan Sieber, when asked how the "Romani problem" in the town should be resolved, smiles and says only that he can't say it on television.
The opinions expressed by Romani people in the film are neither as exacerbated nor as racist as those of the non-Roma. They attempt to defend themselves and do their best to explain that they want to work and that life on welfare does not suit them, that it's not as easy and simple as the "white" Czechs believe.
In their interviews with both Romani people and "whites", Klusák and Remunda try to discover when the hatred in Tanvald, which has been exacerbated by a lack of work, first arose there. "The situation in Tanvald surprised me in many respects. The degree of tension surprised me, it's visible in the town at first glance. I understood that it is very much connected to unemployment, to the bad economic situation, and to the overall mood of the town. It's an environment that promotes the feeling that if I am not succeeding, then it's someone else's fault," Remunda told news server Romea.cz.
"I was greatly surprised to realize that the reasons for the locals to distance themselves from Romani people, for their xenophobia, were always irrational. People there always told us that they had never had any unpleasant experiences with Romani people personally, but that it bothered them to know that they leave their lights on at night and watch tv, that they buy more meat than other people, that they take taxis and other such nonsense. Then they would add that they had heard that a neighbor had heard that some 'darky' robbed someone somewhere," Klusák said.
Český žurnál (Czech Journal) series
The documentary is being broadcast by Czech Television as part of its Český žurnál (Czech Journal) series of five hour-long original documentaries portraying selected events from the year 2012 and those involved in them. The film will be broadcast on 10 March on the ČT 2 channel and was directed by Klusák, Remunda, Lukáš Kokeš and Martin Dušek. Other films in the series will review the story of Roman Smetana (a bus driver who drew antennae on an image of a politician in a campaign ad), the historically first direct elections of the president of the Czech Republic, the methylalcohol affair, and last year's dispute around the way in which the wartime tragedy at Lidice is commemorated.
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