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Roma in Czech town protest mayor's generalizations about them

Nový Bydžov, 7.12.2010 14:11, (ROMEA)

On Sunday, 5 December a Czech Television report on the situation in the town of Nový Bydžov opened with local resident Petr Suchánek, the initiator of a petition against the Roma, saying, "A handful of residents is terrorizing the majority and radical solutions are desired." The broadcast also quotes Mayor Pavel Louda (ODS) claiming police would be supplying him with statistics on crimes committed by Roma, even though statistics on suspects disaggregated by ethnicity are not kept by the police. The report was broadcast as part of the "168 Hours" program.

Louda's previous general condemnation of all Roma as criminals has particularly outraged members of the Roma community who have lived most of their lives in the town. Louda issued an official declaration in the immediate aftermath of allegations that a female resident of Nový Bydžov had been raped and that police suspected a local Roma youth was the perpetrator. Louda entitled the declaration "Gypsies are raping, town prepares special measures" and posted it to the town's web page. He later removed it in response to criticism from around the country. The declaration included the following general condemnations of Roma:

"The citizens' hatred of the Gypsies is boiling over."

"There are only two state police officers serving in the town. Since their jurisdiction is broader than just the town itself, whenever they are called away, the town is left unprotected and the Gypsies merrily cause trouble by shouting in the streets, threatening people, including with knives, and committing theft and rape."

"While all decent people are at work, the Gypsies hang out on the benches on the town square, contentedly shooting the breeze."

"The citizens condemn all of these activities and do not want the Gypsies here - they want them to disappear, but how can this happen? The town's hands are bound, particularly by state legislation which does not make radical measures possible - otherwise, the town would be sued for discrimination."

The Czech Television report summarized the mayor's claims into the following sentence: "The number of Roma has grown to more than 5 % of the population over the past five years, and they are rampaging through the town bothering people, stealing and raping." Louda was also quoted as saying, "If someone rapes your daughter, you definitely won't say you love Gypsies."

Roma residents contacted by Czech Television protested the mayor's remarks. Štefan Mital, a Roma entrepreneur, responded to the mayor's generalizations as follows: "One person raped that girl. I condemn that, and you cannot tar all of the Roma with the same brush." Mital was born in Nový Bydžov; now 33, he runs a construction business. He and his friends believe the mayor's remarks have harmed the majority of Roma people who are law-abiding - and not just in Nový Bydžov.

Czech Television facilitated a meeting between Mayor Louda and the local Roma and filmed the results. "I work in a factory where that petition is being passed around... How do those people see me now?" Roma resident Miroslav Oláh asked at the meeting.

"I believe, and I am convinced of this, that whoever does his work properly will not be harmed," responded Mayor Louda. In his previous remarks, Louda had given the impression that all Roma - including Roma employers and employees - were criminals who could not be compelled to "disappear" because of the risk of anti-discrimination lawsuits.

Milan Bajza reminded Louda of that statement: "You literally said all Gypsies steal, are loud, commit rape, things like that..."

The mayor responded: "Do you not know that crimes are being committed here recently, burglaries, people being threatened?"

"That's what the police are for," said the Roma residents.

"Naturally that is what the police are for," Louda said, adding: "nevertheless, everyone who has complained has said it was the Roma."

In response, Václav Tichý, the town's chief of police, said: "As far as violent crime is concerned the same standard still applies and we clear up 88 % of cases."

When the mayor was asked whether he had requested statistics from the police on how many perpetrators of crime in the town are Roma, he said he had requested them and would have them by Friday. When a reporter asked whether it was even possible to create an inventory of suspects according to their ethnicity, Louda responded: "It's not registered according to ethnicity, it's a register of all attacks and I have asked the director to tell me the number of those incidents committed by Roma. There is nothing illegal about that."

The reportage then shows Václav Tichý saying, "You cannot tell from the police statistics whether a Roma person committed the illegal behavior." Crime statistics on the ethnicity of suspects have not been kept since the 1990s.

During the meeting with local Roma, the mayor expressed amazement that (in his view) there were many new Roma residents in the town whom he had never seen before. "Where are they coming from, who is bringing them here?" the mayor asked, raising his voice, and turned to the Roma entrepreneurs present: "You're all in business...don't you know you need people? Who are you employing?" Zdeněk Mital responded that he employs all kinds of people, "black, white" and invited the mayor to come see for himself.

Petr Suchánek, the initiator of the petition which has taken aim at all Roma without exception, then challenged the local Roma to "keep order among themselves".

Štefan Mital responded: "I can't go visit a family I don't know and tell them what not to do, that's bad."

"Why?" a reporter asked.

"I am not a state body or the police who can address these things for someone," Mital answered.

According to the Czech Television report, it is not easy to get information on how many Roma have recently moved into the town. To confirm this, a clip is then shown of a Roma person railing against the reporter from the window of their home.

The mayor is beefing up the municipal police force, wants to install more video cameras in problematic parts of town, and has already ordered police raids on video poker parlors. Anyone caught playing the machines who is also on welfare (support for material distress) will lose their benefits. According to recent reports, this tactic has paid off and local Roma who gamble on the machines have stopped going to game parlors there and have found others to visit in nearby towns.

According to the reportage, the meeting with the mayor did produce some positive results. The longtime Roma residents told the mayor they would try to speak with Roma children and youth about the situation. The mayor responded by saying: "I will be happy to apologize to you, I will apologize to all the others who behave decently."

František Kostlán, Gwendolyn Albert, František Kostlán, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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