Thousands of Roma demonstrate against neo-Nazism, extremists attack the demonstration in Chomutov
Thousands of Roma throughout the Czech Republic supported a series of simultaneous demonstrations today against neo-Nazism and in support of the Romani victims of the arson attack in Vítkov na Opavsku. The protests were calm in most places. The police completely failed in Chomutov, where the Roma had to cut short their demonstration after it was attacked by neo-Nazis linked to the Workers' Party (Dělnická strana), National Resistance (Národní odpor) and the Autonomous Nationalists (Autonomní Nacionalisté).
Demonstrace proti neonacismu v Plzni
Napadení demonstrace Romů v Chomutově neonacisty
Záznam demonstrace proti neonacismu v Praze
Demonstrace proti neonacismu ve Vítkově
Demonstrace proti neonacismu v Olomouci
Demonstrace proti neonacismu v Litvínově
Roughly 100 neo-Nazis from the Workers' Party and the Autonomous Nationalists' organization attempted to disrupt a peaceful demonstration by the Roma against extremism on náměstí 1. Máje in Chomutov. In response to the neo-Nazi attacks, the Roma ended their action prior to its planned finish time of 17:00. However, now other Roma are heading to Chomutov in order to carry on the gathering. According to the organizers, the police completely failed to protect the properly announced, permitted event from being attacked by a Nazi gang.
The demonstration began in Chomutov, as it did in several other towns around the country, at around 16:00. Neo-Nazis attempted to attack the approximately 100 demonstrators shortly after the event began. According to a ČTK reporter on the scene, they yelled slogans such as "Bohemia for the Czechs" and "Nothing but the Nation" at the Roma and threw flares at the demonstrators.
According to ČTK, at the start of the demonstration there were only 10 police officers and patrolmen on the square. However, by 16:30, Chomutov police spokersperson Marie Pivková told ČTK that the police had been unable to protect the Roma, who had to stop the event.
Romani leader Jan Šipoš told ČTK that the organizers had expected the neo-Nazis to cause an incident. "We are ending the demonstration mainly for security reasons," Šipoš said.
After the Roma demonstration ended, the situation on the square soon became calm. Pivková told ČTK that police detained no one during the incident and that no one had been injured. According to Pivková, police estimate there were about 80 extremists in Chomutov and not quite 200 Roma. Some neo-Nazis wearing the logos of the Autonomous Nationalists and the Workers' Party were searched by police, but no weapons or dangerous objects were found on them. After the demonstration the extremists are reported to have split up into several small groups; police are monitoring their movements to prevent any incidents.
About 350 people participated in the Prague demonstration. When the Roma there learned that the demonstration in Chomutov had been disrupted by neo-Nazis, they interrupted the speeches, shouting that the government is not addressing the Roma's problem. The gathering, which was organized by the signatories of the initiative "Enough is Enough" ("Dost"), started shortly after 16:00 with a prayer on the steps of the Church of Cyril and Methodius, led by Father Miroslav Cuth. "I saw representatives of the Roma from all over Prague here, but some members of the older generation did not attend because they are afraid," Iveta Demeterová, a representative of the Dženo civic association, told ČTK.
Representatives of NGOs, the church, and political life also came to the action in the Karlín district. Outgoing Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg was among them. "Forty years ago, black people in the USA were not permitted to use public toilets. Today, an Afro-American is president there," philosopher Erazim Kohák told the crowd. Members of the Roma musical group Bengas and Prague Rabbi Karol Sidon were also among the speakers.
About 500 people, most of them Roma, demonstrated on náměstí Svobody in Brno against the rise of extremism in the Czech Republic. They chanted the slogans "Stop Nazism" and "This is Our Home". "Extremism is dangerous not just for the Roma, but for all of society," one of the organizers, Karel Holomek, told ČTK. Participants in the Brno demonstration brought many signs with them and began to gather on náměstí Svobody by the dozens about two hours prior to the official start of the demonstration. The crowd dispersed before 17:30. According to a police spokesperson, police officers did not have to deal with any serious problems in Brno.
About 10 speakers of various political and ideological orientations spoke at the demonstration. All condemned the attack in Vítkov. The Romani speakers called for the Workers' Party to be banned. An anonymous representative of the anti-fascist group Antifa received the most applause when he said the best defense against neo-Nazis is to attack them. People showed their appreciation by applauding for a long time. Calls for active defense could be heard from the crowd of Roma several times. Some people chanted "Death to the skinheads".
A parade of fans of the football club 1. FC Brno also walked through the square, and a small group of these latecomers almost got into a fight with some Roma. Police prevented a clash. During their march through the town, the football fans yelled at the Roma and at black people, making monkey noises at them.
Approximately 150 people gathered on the square in Vítkov na Opavsku today. The demonstration took place several hundred meters away from the house of the Romani family that was burned down by arsonists two weeks ago. Those gathering on náměstí Jan Zajíc in Vítkov were mostly Roma. According to Mayor Pavel Smolka, approximately 600 Roma live in the town. Anna Siváková (27), the mother of the two-year-old girl who was severely burned, also attended the demonstration. The young woman told ČTK she had been released from the hospital on Saturday. With her wounds still bandaged, she listened to the opening speeches. Prior to that she said she has a long period of doubts and concerns ahead of her. "We will learn from the doctors in another month whether little Natálka will survive, this will be a long and horrible wait," she said.
Siváková added that even though she has been released, she must return to the hospital every two days for her wounds to be dressed. She is also scheduled to undergo a third operation soon. Her companion was among those who spoke at the demonstration. "We very much thank everyone who is helping us," he said. Prior to that he said he believed the police would catch the perpetrators.
Roma rights activist Kumar Vishwanathan called on all those participating to pray for the health of the little girl. "This was a horrible crime which no one expected in this town, since the co-existence of the Roma and the majority society here is unproblematic," he said.
He then gave the microphone to Jana Šilerová, a bishop in the Czechoslovak Hussite Church. "I have been asked to lead a prayer for this little girl who was so severely burned. Allow me to dedicated this prayer to all victims of violence. I would also like to pray for our society to be healed, because it is ill," the bishop said. Organizers ended the peaceful demonstration just before 17:00.
Several hundred Roma gathered for peaceful demonstrations in Liberec and in Jablonec nad Nisou. In Liberec 100 people gathered on the square in front of the town hall, but in Jablonec the demonstration was much larger, and organizers included traditional Roma music on the program. Police officers guarded the security of the demonstrators and both events went off without incident. In Liberec, neo-Nazis from the Workers' Party tried to provoke the Roma, but no incidents occurred. "We want to express our support for the family from Vítkov who became victims of this arson attack and to express our concern over rising neo-Nazism, we have really had enough of this," Miroslav Kotlár of the Liberec Roma Association (Liberecké romské sdružení) and an organizer of the event told journalists.
Dozens of people also added their signatures to a petition to abolish the Workers' Party. In Liberec, for the time being, Kotlár said that no incidents similar to the one in Vítkov have yet occurred, but added that due to the Roma community's fear of attacks in the town of 100 000, the number of Roma living there has significantly decreased. "Five years ago there were about 3 000 Roma in Liberec, but many of them left for Canada and Great Britain," Kotlár said. In his opinion others are planning to leave now. Dozens of Roma want to go to Canada from Liberec and mainly from Jablonec. "We attribute this to concerns over rising extremism," Kotlár said.
About 150 people, most of them Roma, met under the statue of Tomáš G. Masaryk in Plzeň. Neo-Nazis from the Workers' Party attempted to provoke the Roma there as well, but police kept the situation under control. "We want to mobilize and unite. We have had enough. Extremism is growing here, we are afraid for the lives of practically all of our members," said Štefan Tišer, chair of the Association of Roma and National Minorities in the Plzeň Region. During his speech he called on other people and their supporters to realize that this phenomenon concerns them as well.
According to Tišer, the Roma do not want to attack anyone, but want to use legal means to fight back. "We do not want to move to Canada, this republic is our home. We must not allow people like the attackers from Vítkov to threaten us," he said. He called on people not to be provoked into anything that might worsen the situation. "Turn to the police, to municipal patrolmen, use the services of our organizations," he said.
Approximately 200 people protested in the center of Náchod against rising extremism in the Czech Republic. Roma from Náchod, Broumov, Jaroměř and Hradec Králové gathered for the peaceful action.
"We joined these protests because we feel solidarity with the family from Vítkov," Emil Baláž, organizer of the Náchod demonstration, told ČTK. According to him, the Roma would welcome it if the Workers' Party and their sympathizers did not use slogans such as "Bohemia for the Czechs." "We are all at home here, right?" Baláž asked.
One of the speakers mentioned that the Roma have been living in Bohemia for centuries. "We cannot allow people like the attackers from Vítkov to deprive us of our homes," the woman said during a speech in which she warned the Roma against using violence or radical actions. "In the event of problems, turn to the police," she said.
Petr Fejfar, a former Czech Senator and one-time Mayor of Česká Skalice na Náchodsku, also spoke. "Unfortunately, there is a great deal of xenophobia in our nation. Sixty years ago we ourselves were to have been erased from the map of Europe and we had to fight for our self-awareness, we should be less xenophobic and racist than we are," he told ČTK. The organizers of the Náchod gathering ended it after roughly half an hour.
In Pardubice about 150 people g thered. The operations officer for the Pardubice Municipal Police told ČTK today that up to 150 people participated in the event, which dispersed at roughly 16:45. "The whole meeting took place without any problems," the patrolman said. Andrej Horváth, organizer of the event in Pardubice, confirmed to ČTK that the demonstration had been peaceful.
Roughly 150 participated in Litvínov. Outgoing Czech Human Rights and Minorities Minister Michael Kocáb was there with the Roma, who also began to collect contributions for the family of the two-year-old little girl burned in the arson attack. According to leader František Horváth, almost CZK 6 000 was collected in Krupka na Teplicku.
Ústí nad Labem
Approximately 150 people participated in the demonstration.
Forty neo-Nazis attempted to disrupt the Ostrava gathering of about 500 people, mostly Roma. Police succeeded in moving the neo-Nazis away from Masarykovo náměstí. Neo-Nazis from the Workers' Party, National Resistance and the Autonomous Nationalists yelled racist insults at the Roma. Participants in the Roma gathering listened to singers, applauded the Mayor of Ostrava Petr Kajnar and other speakers, and were led by a priest in a prayer for the health of the little girl burned in the arson attack in Vítkov.
Roughly 150 people gathered in Hodonín and the assembly took place in total calm.
According to the signatories to the "Dost" initiative, the aim of these demonstrations is to repeatedly condemn the arson attack on the Romani family in Vítkov, to morally and financially support this family, whose two-year-old child is fighting for her life in hospital after the attack, and to express disagreement with rising right-wing extremism in the Czech Republic.
During the demonstration people were able to sign a petition condemning rising neo-Nazism in the Czech Republic. A charity collection is also part of the event. The proceeds will go to the afflicted family for securing their housing and mainly for their future medical care.
Amnesty International (AI) has also expressed its solidarity and support for the Roma community. "Our members express their disagreement with the rise in verbal and physical attacks against the Roma in the Czech Republic," said one of the spokespeople for the Czech branch of AI, Eva Dobrovolná.
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