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Roma commentator Patrik Banga on the Nový Bydžov demonstrations

Nový Bydžov, 13.3.2011 21:08, (ROMEA)
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We arrived in Nový Bydžov at around 9 AM. For the last 20 kilometers of our journey, my colleague Ivan Kratochvíl and I searched in vain for the police officers who were supposed to be on patrol. We encountered the first police on the very edge of this small town, which was about to become a meeting point for several hundred extremists and those demonstrating against them. No one stopped us. Police instead paid attention to a yellow Fabia pulling a trailer.

We went to the police station, which I remembered from my previous visit to the town. On the sidewalk we ran into the press spokesperson, who issued us the essential "press" card which was supposed to become our entry ticket to the center of events in the hours to come. After a brief consultation with our colleagues from the regions, we went to work.

We looked for Roma people on U Hřiště street, which was supposed to become the center of a meeting, but no one was there. After several telephone calls we determined they were several meters further on. When we arrived at the scene, we saw approximately 40 people and roughly half that number of cars, so we figured out these people were all local and the rest were on the way.

I spotted a few familiar faces and greeted the people I knew. After that, more phone calls. Other media crews made it to the scene.

People quickly started arriving along with their cars, from which they pulled banners. In the end the organizer of the event made it there. After an hour of waiting we approached the space in front of the local football stadium where there was a bigger parking lot, big enough to fit all the people and even a bus that was bringing dozens of others. Former Czech Human Rights Ministers Michael Kocáb and Džamila Stehlíková turned up. The group at that time was about 160 people strong.

When everyone was prepared to march, one of the activists took the floor and announced that the planned march was canceled and that the action was being turned into a religious procession, which is not subject to the reporting requirement and takes precedence over all announced marches. A clergywoman from the Hussite Church had been selected as the leader. She announced that this would be a nonviolent, peaceful march and called all activists to their stations, full of prayer.

The march set off from the parking lot to Na Šarlejích street, but the Czech Police barred their way on Havlíčková street. Negotiations began. The activists argued that their march was legal and the police did their best to verify that information. A representative of the municipality even showed up. In the meantime the group recited the "Our Father".

A pensioner came out of a nearby house and yelled across his fence that the "black whores need to get out of here", followed by many other curses aimed at the Roma. The police looked on while journalists descended on his home. The pensioner kept on swearing and Czech Television journalist Richard Samko attempted to interview him. Suddenly the pensioner turned around and yelled into the house "You don't agree with me?" and took a step forward. We heard the sound of a crash and the pensioner disappeared from view. "He's dead," the journalists started saying - and at that moment I thought that even though this pensioner was a racist, I would jump the fence to help him, which I believe most of the other journalists present would have done as well. However, he soon turned up again - Eureka!

The representatives of the town and the Czech Police finally recognized the arguments of the activists and the caravan continued down Na Šarlejích street and then along Revoluční třída toward the church. Several speeches were given there and there was more praying. The road was lined with riot police, separating the procession from a group of extremists. One extremist was holding some sort of bar in his hand which was definitely neither a tripod nor a mike stand. I asked the anti-conflict team what they intended to do about it, and the answer was that they would confiscate anything that was a weapon or like a weapon, but they were not able to explain to me why that particular person was allowed to keep hold of the bar I had noticed.

Several dozen DSSS supporters were standing a few meters away from the counter-demonstrators. Flags were visible, but the small groups were calm for the time being. The provocation started on the return trip. The DSSS-supporting bystanders asked the Roma people who were carrying banners: "Why are you carrying that banner? Do you have a job? Are you on welfare?"

However, the group returned the way it had come, stopping in Na Šarlejích street. In the interim several dozen supporters of the Antifa movement had joined the group. The activists quarreled in the middle of the street over whether to stay there and block the extremists' march or to return from whence they had come. The clergywoman dispersed the officially announced event and distanced herself from blockading the street.

At that time the group numbered roughly between 200 and 250 people. The more radical people wanted to stay at any cost and block the road, while the more moderate wanted to give in and demonstrate 100 meters away in a space that would not block the legally announced DSSS march.

In the end, the more active members of Antifa convinced the others and they remained in place, some of them sitting on the ground. After several minutes, their access back to the center was blocked off by riot police. More negotiations began.

At that moment the group had no legitimate reason for blocking the announced march. The police officers warned them of that fact, as did the anti-conflict team. Information then reached the crowd that Vandas had started speaking and that there were several hundred extremists in town.

The negotiations reached a stalemate and the police announced they would intervene if the demonstrators didn't leave. The slogan "Black people, white people, let's join forces" was heard. By now the Roma demonstrators were becoming concerned. At the front of the crowd was a small group of people which wanted to do something about the sitaution, including Martin Šimáček, Ondřej Liška, representatives of the local Roma and, for what it was worth, myself. Several instructions were given, including the instruction that the Roma were to retreat once police called on the demonstrators to leave.

Suddenly there seemed to be hope. A police commander had convinced Ondřej Liška to file an official complaint about the DSSS march, which was evidently being held for reasons other than those for which it had been permitted. Some demonstrators were wearing the symbols of the banned Workers' Party, others had endorsed the banned organization National Resistance. The whole demonstration had even been announced on their website, odpor.org.

We went to the police station. After several minutes of "negotations", we got the information that the police had intervened against the counter-demonstrators.

We ran out of the police station and back to Na Šarlejích street. There I saw only empty smoke grenades and some police vans and police officers on the right-hand side. Roma people called to me from the window that it had been a massacre, that horses had trampled people. At that moment I understood what had happened. The police had lured the politicians away so they could intervene harshly.

I found the demonstrators several dozens of meters away in Havlíčková street. Eight riot police on horseback had charged them. I looked to see who was injured, mainly for my friends. Thank God they were all right.

I got bits and pieces of information about what had actually taken place. The riot police had made way for officers on horseback to charge directly at the demonstrators, whom they beat with night sticks. Some people were arrested, several were injured. Everyone was using the words "brutal" and "massacre". The police then pushed the demonstrators several meters further back so the extremists could have a clear path.

Several minutes later, the extremists took full advantage of the open street. Several hundreds of them marched down the street chanting slogans such as "Bohemia for the Czechs". Individual voices chanted slogans such as "Come out here you black whores" and "Antifa, ha, ha, ha" at the Antifa members. When the counter-demonstrators began chanting, I had the impression for a moment that I was at a football match between Sparta and Ostrava.

I was also bewildered by something else: I knew from the police that there is a ban on wearing masks, but many of the extremists were masked. The police was taking no action against them, certainly not in the way they had taken action against the counter-demonstrators.

Once the extremists had marched past, the situation calmed down a bit, and I could finally go to my car for a fresh battery. In the parking lot I met Michael Kocáb, who left the event at around 3 PM.

When I returned to town there was neither hide nor hair of any of the counter-demonstrators. I called around and determined they were in front of the police station. I set out after them and ran into them as they were leaving.

It was time to go back to Prague. On the way I met lots of patrols - not of the Czech Police, but of extremists who were loitering in the nearby villages, smoking in front of their cars. I thought the action was over.

One hour later, a colleague called my mobile phone. The extremists had attacked three Roma people and injured one of them. A moment later the police spokesperson was clarifying to me that there had been several dozen extremists and 13 had been arrested. Police had managed to handle the march, but apparently not the aftermath.

Gwendolyn Albert, Patrik Banga, Patrik Banga, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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