Patrik Banga: Report from Rumburk
"Don't worry, it'll be fine", I said to my fellow reporters as we got on the tram in Prague last Friday. Later in the day I said the same thing to correspondent Radek Horváth when I picked him up in Děčín.
By 10:30 AM Friday we were sitting in a restaurant on the outskirts of Rumburk. Horváth and I were to meet other people there interested in the rally schedule for that afternoon. Robert Ferenc of the Čačipen association showed up and we set out into the field.
"Go film somewhere else, I don't want problems here!" a local Romani woman told us, chasing us away while other Romani people peered out the window in curiosity. She was obviously afraid, lamenting our presence, shouting as she tried to get us as far away as possible from the building where her family lives. I understood her fear. The town was full of rumors that hundreds of Nazis from Germany were heading there.
Around lunchtime everything was still calm. The town did not seem to be preparing for a demonstration. All we noticed were a larger number of municipal police officers on the streets, but that could have been the result of the violent brawl that had happened there a few days prior, not a sign of events to come. We decided to speak with locals about the situation.
We tried asking people for details about the murder that had taken place several days before, as well as for details about the people responsible for the brawl that past Sunday. We got only bits and pieces of information. Nobody wanted to talk.
We then set out for Nový Bor [where a machete attack had taken place in a local gaming room] to find out how the situation was developing there. We didn't see any police patrols on the way, just a few police vans evidently heading for Rumburk.
In Nový Bor the situation seemed to be just as tense as in Rumburk. I was prepared for a situation like the time Radek and I filmed our report about the rent defaulters on hunger strike. There wasn't a lot of time, so we made use of lunchtime by talking with locals and visiting Štefan Gorol [of the local Romani association]. Nothing has changed in Nový Bor with respect to the tensions. Everyone had their say, but no one stood up for the alleged assailants, and everyone agrees they should be punished.
At around 3:30 PM we were heading back to Rumburk. We made it there in short order. There was still nothing about the town square to indicate that a rally would be taking place there soon. Firefighters were watering down the space and there were only a few people around. Journalists were meeting up in a nearby ice cream parlor. However, we could see guys whose appearances reminded us of [right-wing extremist demonstrators] from Krupka or Nový Bydžov [earlier this year]. Later, a small podium was set up on the square, and just before 5:00 PM people started pouring in. The journalists headed for the podium. I took a few photographs and looked around. There were a few more shaven-headed guys wearing "Everlast" t-shirts, but the people in front seem to be dissatisfied citizens of the town, not extremists.
The rally started and Czech MP Foldyna (Czech Social Democrats - ČSSD) spoke. The crowd was very cool toward him, with a few exceptions. Mayor Sykáček (ČSSD) was whistled down by the crowd and subjected to unprintable curses.
Next a musclebound guy took the microphone and gave his name as Josef Mašín. He twice claimed not to be an extremist, but the extremists in the crowd were giving him as much support as the could. The Civic Resistance (Občanský odpor) group to which he belongs was the original convener of a rally at that same time and place, but their event was not permitted by the town out of concerns that extremists linked to the group would attend. The local Czech Social Democrats resolved the issue by hosting the meeting themselves, having their cake and eating it too. Mašín's emotional speech earned the most applause of all.
The rally ended several minutes later and the crowd dispersed. We also left to send a few photographs and a short text to our editors. A few minutes later, everything was different. Our correspondent who remained on the scene called to tell us a march was underway. The mob was apparently shouting that they were going after "gypsies".
We caught up to the march several minutes later. Several hundred people were marching through the town shouting racist slogans. I looked around for police, in vain. Evidently they believed a three-person anti-conflict team was enough for the mob, which I estimated was about 600-800 people strong. There were neither traffic cops nor riot police anywhere.
The mob reached a building where one of the participants in the recent brawl allegedly lives, destroying a fence along the way. Police on the scene prevented the mob from breaking into the building, and the building owner also showed up at the scene. The tenants, however, were not at home. They had already fled the town because their neighbors had threatened to lynch them. Most of them had nothing to do with the recent brawl.
Eventually we made it around to the other side of the building. Police had barricaded the intersection there. In the distance we spotted riot police in action, so we ran in their direction to record what was happening. A completely banal intervention was underway, the arrest of a marcher who didn't obey police instructions. I took photographs while the marcher fought the police. The next thing I knew, my colleagues and I were being detained by police because of my photography. We were later released without any explanation.
By then it looked like the street fighting was over. We returned to the press room where the police spokesperson was.
A bit later we learned that the Romani family from the building surrounded by police was spending the night 14 km away with relatives. We drove there and filmed an interview with them for news server Romea.cz.
Organizers let the situation in Rumburk get completely out of hand. What happened there can definitely not be called a "peaceful demonstration". The marchers were shouting racist slogans and had only one goal, to terrorize Romani residents and expel them from town. In the end, as always, those who had never done anything wrong suffered the most.
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