Two decades of neo-Nazi and racist violence in Central Europe
The following is a summary of the basic information available regarding neo-Nazi and racist attacks on Roma committed in the Czech Republic and Central Europe. We start with a chronology of last year's arson attack in Vítkov before moving on to a selection of verdicts handed down in other attacks by right-wing extremists against Roma, including arson attacks on Roma homes committed by neo-Nazis and promoters of the extreme right in Germany, Hungary and Slovakia.
19 April - Arsonists throw three Molotov cocktails into the home of a nine-member Roma family in Vítkov. During the subsequent blaze, three people are injured, including a two-year-old girl who suffers burns over 80 % of her body. Her 27-year-old mother and 30-year-old father escape with lesser injuries. The house is completely destroyed.
The injured father is later transferred to a hospital in prison, as it is discovered that he has been avoiding serving jail time for a previous offense. Czech Human Rights Minister Michael Kocáb asks Czech President Klaus to grant him clemency.
20 April - The government announces the adoption of measures through which the state will start to fight against right-wing extremism. Roma activists and others protest the attack. Then-European Commissioner Vladimír Špidla says the European Commission is disturbed by the rise in violence against Roma in the Czech Republic and the EU as a whole.
22 April - The Vítkov town hall announces a public collection in support of the family.
23 April - Czech President Václav Klaus decides to immediately suspend the prison sentence of the burned girl's injured father. He had previously been convicted of theft, property damage, and driving a car without a license.
25 April - The Roma family receives clothing and other items from a humanitarian collection organized by the Life Together civic association.
29 April - The injured mother's health improves. She is transferred to a regular hospital unit and sees three of her children for the first time since the fire. Her fourth, the two-year-old, is still in a very critical condition.
30 April - Doctors release the father. His partner and daughter remain in hospital.
12 August - Police arrest 12 people in relation to the Vítkov attack, eight of whom are later released.
14 August - Policie charge four right-wing extremists from the Bruntál and Opava districts with racially motivated attempted murder. They are taken into custody. The suspects are all said to be promoters of the extreme right: Jaromír Lukeš and Václav Cojocaru are from Opava, while Ivo Müller and David Vaculík are from Horní Benešov.
4 November - Vaculík is convicted by the District Court in Bruntál of having assaulted audience members at a heavy metal concert in Rýmařov and is given a half-year suspended sentence. In April 2010, an appeals court overturns this verdict.
16 November - The victimized family moves into a new house in Budišov nad Budišovkou, purchased with money from the public collection. A total of CZK 890 000 was donated from around the country and around the world.
Czech President Klaus grants the father of the injured girl clemency.
5 February - The investigation of the arson is completed, police ask the state prosecutor to proceed against the four right-wing extremists.
9 February - The state prosecutor files suit with the Regional Court in Ostrava. Police charge the four men with racially motivated attempted murder against more than one person, one of whom was a minor.
3 May - The Czech government's report on extremist incidents during 2009 mentions the Vítkov arson as the most serious case of the year.
11 May - The trial begins. The proceedings are accompanied throughout by disagreements between the defense attorneys and presiding judge Miloslav Studnička. The defense criticizes Studnička for handling the hearings in what they allege is an illegal manner.
16 September - The court finishes hearing evidence.
5 October - The state prosecutor asks for extraordinary sentencing (between 15 and 25 years in prison) for three defendants. She recommends normal sentencing (15 years) for Ivo Müller.
6 October - During closing arguments, Ivo Müller and Václav Cojocaru apologize to the victims for their crimes.
20 October - The Regional Court in Ostrava sentences the four extremists to extraordinary prison sentences: David Vaculík, Ivo Müller and Jaromír Lukeš 22 years, Václav Cojocaru 20 years, to be served in a maximum-security facility. They will also have to pay many millions of crowns in compensation.
Previous verdicts in cases of right-wing extremist attacks against Roma in the Czech Republic
Murder of a 17-year-old Roma boy in Písek
On 24 September 1993, skinheads attacked a group of Roma in the town of Písek and drove them into the river Otava. A 17-year-old Roma boy drowned during the attack. The case was ruled on by the District, Regional and High Courts. The final verdict was handed down in 1999. Three skinheads received prison sentences of eight years, seven-and-a-half years and six-and-a-half years respectively for racially motivated murder and attempted murder.
Murder of a Roma man in Žďár nad Sázavou
On 14 May 1995, four skinheads attacked a 42-year-old Roma man in his own home in Žďár nad Sázavou. He died as a result of his injuries. The Regional Court in Brno first sentenced Zdeněk Podrázský to 12 years in prison for murder but did not find for racial motivation. A second perpetrator was sentenced to 18 months in prison, while two other juvenile perpetrators were given suspended sentences of six and two months respectively. In 1996, the High Court found for racial motivation and increased the sentences: Podrázský received 13 years and the second perpetrator received 20 months.
Violent death of a Roma man in Orlová-Lutyně
On 17 May 1998, four skinheads attacked a 40-year-old Roma man in Orlová-Lutyně and left him lying in the middle of a road. Several minutes later a police officer ran him over, for which he received a suspended sentence. The man died as a result of his injuries. In 2001, the Ostrava Regional Court sentenced two of the skinheads to three years and one year in prison respectively. The other two skinheads were given suspended sentences. The court qualified the crime as grievous bodily harm resulting in death.
Murder of a 30-year-old Roma man in Svitavý
On 21 July 2001, 22-year-old Vlastimil Pechanec, a known skinhead, verbally attacked a local 30-year-old Roma man at a disco in Svitavý before stabbing him to death. In 2003 the High Court in Prague sentenced Pechanec to 17 years in prison for racially motivated murder. The length of the sentence was determined by the racial motivation of the crime and by the evaluations of experts who labeled Pechanec an unlikely candidate for rehabilitation.
Previous selected verdicts in cases of arson attacks on Roma homes in the Czech Republic
- In February 1996 in the town of Krnov, five youths threw Molotov cocktails into the apartments of two Roma families. Firefighters managed to put out one of the fires. The youths repeated their crime several days later, throwing a Molotov cocktail into another apartment. The Roma family living there managed to put out the fire. In 2002, four of the youths were given suspended sentences, while a fifth was sent to prison for three years.
- In January 1998 a group of perpetrators threw a Molotov cocktail into a Roma family's apartment in Krnov. A 48-year-old woman suffered severe burns and a man was lightly injured. Police charged three youths with the attack. In February 2002 the District Court in Krnov sentenced neo-Nazi Radek Bedrim to two years in prison. His two accomplices were released for lack of evidence.
Previous selected cases of arson committed by neo-Nazis or promoters of the extreme right elsewhere in Central Europe, including verdicts (where reached)
23 November 1992 - Neo-Nazis in the town of Mölln in northern Germany murdered two Turkish women and a 10-year-old girl when they threw Molotov cocktails into two homes. In December 1993, two perpetrators were sentenced to life in prison and 10 years in prison respectively.
28 May 1993 - An arson attack on a building in which Turkish families were living in the town of Solingen in western Germany took the lives of five victims, three women and two little girls. After the attack, angry Turks from all over Germany clashed with police in Solingen for several days. The attack prompted anger abroad and outrage in German officialdom. In October 1994, four young Germans were sentenced to prison sentences of between 10 and 15 years for the arson. The prosecution said they had been motivated by "hatred of foreigners".
25 March 1994 - Unidentified perpetrators threw explosives into a synagogue in Lübeck where six families were living. The subsequent fire was spotted in time, so everyone was saved and no one was injured. In May, police arrested four young right-wing extremists who were then given sentences of between two and four years in prison. It was the first attack on a Jewish synagogue in Germany since the end of WWII. Several other synagogues have been attacked since then.
28 September 1994 - A home for refugees in the town of Herford in northern Germany was intentionally set on fire, killing an 11-year-old boy and his 23-year-old physically disabled sister. Both were from the former Yugoslavia.
21 July 1995 - A group of skinheads in the town of Žiar nad Hronom in Slovakia attacked an 18-year-old Roma man, Mário Goral, poured fuel over him and set him on fire. The youth died as a result of his injuries 11 days later. The main perpetrator was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for racially motivated murder. Two of his accomplices were also sentenced to prison time, while the rest "got away" with suspended sentences.
18 January 1996 - In the town of Lübeck in northern Germany, a fire was intentionally set at a hostel for immigrants and resulted in 10 deaths, including three children. A Lebanese refugee was suspected of the attack but was released in June of the following year for lack of evidence. The state prosecutor had originally charged him with setting the fire for motives of revenge, basing the charges on the testimony of an emergency responder to whom the youth had allegedly confessed. However, from the beginning the defense was of the opinion that the attack had been committed from the outside, by racists. The defense criticized the German justice system for failing to thoroughly investigate initial suspicions that four German skinheads from nearby Grevesmühlen had committed the crime.
April 1996 - In the town of Hontianské Nemce in Slovakia, skinheads set the home of a Roma family on fire, killing one Roma man and injuring three others. The mayor allegedly refused to call police to the scene.
23 February 2009 - A commando unit of right-wing extremists threw Molotov cocktails into a Roma home in the village of Tatarszentgyörgy and then shot the residents as they fled the fire. The father of the family and his five-year-old son were killed. This gruesome crime was part of a series of dozens of similar attacks throughout Hungary during which six Roma were murdered. A group suspected of committing these crimes was arrested in the summer of 2009. All of them belonged to the right-wing nationalist scene. The investigation was completed this past August and the trial should start soon.
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