Stehliková: Human rights trampled under the hooves of horses
Was yesterday's police intervention against the Roma people and others demonstrating against the neo-Nazis proportionate?
This story started long before groups of right-wing extremists decided to meet on the morning of Saturday, 12 March and march through the Roma quarter of Nový Bydžov in order to terrorize the residents. It started long before the 51 mayors met in Nový Bydžov to discuss tactics for "how to take on the socially inadaptable" (to use the term introduced by former Mayor of Chomutov Ivana Řápková (Civic Democrats - ODS) instead of the more correct term of "the socially excluded"). The mayors agreed on a "Mayoral Declaration", the content of which was a proposal for repressive measures that would intrude into the private lives of all citizens, not just the socially excluded.
Our story started when the Mayor of Nový Bydžov, Pavel Louda (ODS), decided to bank solely on denouncing and repressing the socially deprived instead of guiding the town toward integration of the socially excluded. Instead of applying for assistance from the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion in Roma Localities, he found a quick shortcut to the rapid scoring of political points.
When a recidivist who is reportedly "half-Roma" allegedly raped a 21-year-old girl in Nový Bydžov last November, the mayor's issued a statement labeling "Gypsies" as the culprits for this brutal crime. In that statement, the mayor does not distinguish between the "orderly" families of longtime Roma residents and the newly-arrived "problematic" families, but tars all Roma people with the same brush, even though escalating hatred against a particular group because of its alleged criminality in the town is no solution. The mayor's statement divided locals even more and strengthened the anti-Roma mood.
It is therefore not surprising that right-wing extremists are welcome in Nový Bydžov. Ever since the conflict at the Janov housing estate in Litvínov, we have seen that the extremists' tactic is to seek the support and sympathy of local populations in problematic localities.
These extremists, aided by their marches through excluded localities predominantly inhabited by Roma people, are promoting themselves in public life and striving to enter politics. Perhaps the most active and best-known of these groups is the extreme-right Workers' Social Justice Party (Dělnická strana sociální spravedlnosti - DSSS), the successor to the banned Workers' Party (Dělnická strana - DS). This is the party that convened the demonstration in Nový Bydžov on Saturday, 12 March 2011, allegedly at the request of local residents and despite a call from the mayor not to come to the town.
The illegal Movement of Autonomous Nationalists then affiliated itself with the demonstration. According to Green Party chair Ondřej Liška, who was present at Saturday's events, other neo-Nazi and ultra-right groups including the National Resistance also joined the call for the DSSS demonstration through their web pages. Such extremely unconstitutional activities and relationships were one of the reasons the Workers' Party was banned in the first place.
Liška says these relationships were sufficient reason either to ban yesterday's gathering before it even began, or to disperse it once it had begun. The town hall leadership, however, did none of this. It permitted the radical right-wing march and did not disperse the gathering even after it took an illegal turn and Ondřej Liška filed criminal charges against the organizers at the local department of the Police of the Czech Republic. For their part, the police intervened very harshly against the group of Roma and other people counter-demonstrating against the neo-Nazis and attempting to block the extremist march.
Let's look at the events in Nový Bydžov in chronological order. In addition to the right-wing radicals, Roma people and others also announced a gathering for 12 March and the "Nový Bydžov is not alone!" Initiative was created. This call was endorsed by NGOs including the Romea civic association, human rights activists, politicians, members of the Green Party, guests from abroad and other sympathizers.
As many as 300 people total met in the town who were united in the opinion that a "protest against neo-Nazism and racism is a natural position to hold in society and the obligation of every respectable person". The recently appointed Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner, Monika Šimůnková, was also invited to attend.
The Workers' Social Justice Party had planned to march through streets where many Roma families live, such as Na Šarlejích street, where the entire drama later culminated in a police intervention in which riot police, on horseback and carrying shields, dispersed the counter-demonstrators with nightsticks and firecrackers. The majority of Roma families in that locality, out of concern there would be a pogrom, had already sent their children, the elderly and the women out of town to stay with relatives. The tension in the town was so thick you could have cut it with a knife.
On Saturday 12 March, police checkpoints were set up in the morning for those driving into Nový Bydžov. Police stopped the buses that the Green Party had organized for their supporters and the car being driven by former Czech Human Rights Minister Michael Kocáb. That morning some of the retailers in town had closed their shops and boarded up their display windows. There were only a few shops where visitors, including the skinheads, were welcome. The streets of the town of 7 000 were empty.
Roma and other citizens supporting the Nový Bydžov is not alone! Initiative gathered for their march by the football pitch. Those in attendance included former Czech Human Rights Minister Michael Kocáb, the actor Achab Heidler, the chair of the Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust (Výbor pro odškodnění romského holocaustu) Čeněk Růžička, the German journalist and sociologist Markus Pape, members of the Green Party, members of the Czech Pirate Party, and many others.
The organizers of the event, Miroslav Brož and Drahomír Radek Horváth, announced just before 11:00 that the planned march had been canceled and that there would be a religious gathering instead. Such a gathering would not be subject to reporting requirements, which meant the procession could travel anywhere it wanted.
The group was led by a clergywoman from the Czechoslovak Hussite Church, Mgr. Michaela Kajlíková. She led the march into the center of town to the nearby Catholic church of St. Lawrence (sv. Vavřinec).
After advancing 200 meters, the peaceful procession was stopped by police to verify whether it could be allowed to continue on as a religious gathering. Michaela Kajlíková began a common prayer, after which the marchers linked arms and created a human chain to symbolize their union and common resistance to evil. Negotiations with the secretary of the town hall took an hour, but were successful.
At around noon the procession arrived at the church and started to pray. In the interim, the first small groups of right-wing radicals carrying DSSS flags began heading for the main square, which is near the church of St. Lawrence (sv. Vavřinec). Standing several meters away from the religious gathering, the neo-Nazis followed it and yelled insults at specific people. Police officers formed a barrier between those who were praying and the extremists.
Shortly after noon, Michaela Kajlíková concluded the religious gathering, announced that fact to the town hall, and led the procession back to its original gathering place. Most of the demonstrators decided to stay in Na Šarlejích street, which is predominantly inhabited by Roma families, to blockade the extremists' march. Those who remained with the Roma included both former Human Rights Ministers and the chairs of the Green Party and the Pirate Party and their supporters. Radical representatives of the anti-fascist group Antifa joined the gathering as well.
DSSS party chair Tomáš Vandas began speaking on the main square. Police asked the DSSS to change the route of their march so as to avoid Na Šarlejích street, which was being blocked by the counter-demonstrators. Vandas refused this request and insisted on the original route.
The Roma counter-demonstrators were determined not to let the extremists march beneath the windows of their homes. One of the organizers, Drahomír Radek Horváth, declared he would remain there even at the price of committing civil disobedience.
For almost one hour, the peaceful crowd created a blockade with their own bodies. "Black people, white people, join forces," chanted the group of roughly 200.
The police anti-conflict teams attempted to convince the demonstrators to let the DSSS march through. A few steps away on the square, anti-Roma and racist slogans were being chanted which were criminal violations of the Constitution, so the people forming the blockade were willing to commit the misdemeanor of standing their ground.
Green Party chair Ondřej Liška then announced to Mayor Pavel Louda that he had information according to which the illegal National Resistance movement was participating in the DSSS gathering, as was obvious from the content of their web page. In his view, this meant the DSSS gathering was unconstitutional as it was inciting racial intolerance and violence against a particular group. Liška asked the mayor to disperse the gathering. The mayor referred to the discipline of those participating in the permitted gathering on the square and said he saw nothing in the content of their speeches or the purpose of the march that would lead him to ban it. The Green Party head did not give up and set off to negotiate with the commander of the police intervention, Petr Krása.
It seemed the commander of the intervention had more understanding for our arguments. He suggested filing official charges at the local police department. He told us that this would create an opportunity for dispersing the DSSS march, which had not yet left the square. Ondřej Liška, Michael Kocáb and Džamila Stehlíková immediately set off for the closest police department to file charges.
Mere minutes after Liška and the two former ministers had entered the police building to file their motion to have the DSSS march dismissed, the police intervened in a flash against the counter-demonstrators and very harshly dispersed them. After calling once for those assembled to disperse, the police officers spurred their horses to a gallop and charged the demonstrators. Officers on horseback delivered blows to the demonstrators with long nightsticks.
Riot police set off firecrackers and then randomly arrested the confused and startled counter-demonstrators. Eyewitnesses say the brutality and rapidity of the intervention confounded everyone. At least 10 demonstrators report having been struck with a night stick or an "encounter with a horse", as we might euphemistically describe the situation in which a rider charges at a person sitting on the ground who does not have enough time to get up and run. At least three people were treated for injuries caused by the horses.
Those of us at the police station received word of this unexpectedly brutal intervention and immediately headed back to Na Šarlejích street. We were too late - the street was empty. The demonstrators had been pushed into the next street, Havlíčkova, to make room for the DSSS march. We managed to hand a copy of the charges to Petr Krása. He promised to see what could be done and disappeared in the direction of the square. We never saw him again.
After several minutes, the streets leading away from the square were full of DSSS marchers chanting the slogans "Bohemia for the Czechs" and "Stop Black Racism". The march was protected by many riot police, far more than had protected the counter-demonstration march by the Roma and their supporters.
The Mayor of Nový Bydžov later praised the course of the police interventions on the town hall website: "The Police of the Czech Republic demonstrated perfect preparedness and accompanied the march of the properly announced DSSS gathering. Thanks to a deployment of large numbers of men and equipment, public order was protected in the town during the gathering and immediately after it ended."
Ondřej Liška and Drahomír Radek Horváth consider the police intervention to have been brutal and disproportionate. Horváth is preparing to file a motion for the intervention to be investigated.
A sad ending to this Saturday was a clash during which 13 DSSS supporters attacked three Roma men. One of the Roma victims, after being kicked and receiving blows to the head, fell unconscious and was hospitalized with a concussion. DSSS chair Tomáš Vandas announced that he was satisfied with his party's action.
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