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Czech and Slovak media allege Romani people are behind arson at Krásná Hôrka castle

Krásná Hôrka, Slovakia, 12.3.2012 18:27, (ROMEA)
Krásná Hôrka castle during the blaze. PHOTO:  Repro Sme.sk

The Krásná Hôrka castle in Slovakia has burned down, and the way the Czech and Slovak media have reported on the case makes for sad reading. From the start of their reporting on this scandal, the media have insisted that ethnic Slovaks could not have been involved. Romani people, of course, are always to blame for everything that goes wrong.

The first media reports alleged that Romani people living in a nearby settlement had burned the castle down when they were burning grass near it. The commander of the local volunteer firefighting unit said the building had caught fire from grass that was burning beneath the castle in the area of the Romani settlement.

"I can confirm with 100 % confidence that the blaze spread from the grass that was being burned. They called us from the settlement to come there originally," Stanislav Peti, an officer with the firefighters in Rožňav, told news server pis.sk, which also reported that Slovak Culture Minister Daniel Krajcer had immediately "sharply criticized the fact that the blaze had probably been caused by inadaptable citizens living near the castle."

Then suddenly the media were not reporting about Romani adults burning grass, but children: According to TV JOJ, Romani children had been burning grass below the castle and were responsible for the blaze. News server Topky.cz reported that a spark from their fire had reached the roof of the castle, which was composed entirely of wooden shingles.

Then it turned out the information about the grass having been intentionally set alight had not been true. The media began reporting that two children from a Romani settlement had set it alight when trying to smoke. News server aktuálne.sk quoted Jana Mésarová, spokesperson for the police in Košice, as saying the grass had caught fire when two boys aged 11 and 12 were trying to light a cigarette.

Residents of the Romani settlement assisted volunteer firefighters in putting out the fire. Some of them told news server váš.čas.sk that "the families of the boys involved don't live in the settlement, but in the village."

So from the initial claims that the fire had been caused by Romani people burning grass, the information then shifted to the idea that the blaze had been started by two boys trying to smoke. Those two children may not be from the Romani settlement, but from the village of Krásnohorské podhradie. It is not even certain that they actually are Romani themselves.

The question still remains as to how the roof of the castle could have caught fire from the burning grass. Some Slovak media outlets have reported that after the dry grass caught fire, the shingles of the castle roof caught fire a few minutes later. The flames spread during about 10 minutes across the entire hill on which the castle is located because of a strong wind.

However, even that does not explain the extent of the blaze. Of course, the media have not provided an explanation, but we have found one on the official website of the village of Krásnohorské podhradie.

Art historian Július Barczi, an expert on the collections and mansions of the Andrássy nobility, posted the following to the municipal website while the media was still reporting that Romani residents had been burning grass:

"We must realize one essential fact, and that is that the arsonist, or the person who set this fire, is not directly responsible for the fact that the castle has burned down. The castle is surrounded by bushy, rampant brushwood, dry grass, and fallen trees, an ideal environment for a forest fire. Several years ago a dispute about the castle hill came to a head between the Betliar Museum and the State Forest Service. The museum acquired ownership rights to the land. The cleaning and maintenance of it, therefore, is the full responsibility of the Betliar Museum administration, which even has an 'Historical Greenery' department as part of its administrative structure. That department works, or should work, in close cooperation with the Regional Monument Authority. That authority previously delivered a decision to the directors of the Betliar Museum on paper demanding that they clean up the castle hill by cutting down and removing the brushwood in order to prevent a possible fire... There are also questions about the fireproofing of the castle's framing and roof. Anyone who has visited the upper castle on a tour must have noticed that the roof is not in good repair. Wherever a shingle is missing, the rain and snow fall into the exhibition. In some places the holes have just been covered with fabric. I can still recall how a few years ago, when they changed the shingles, gentlemen in overalls were running around the roof painting them - shingles which were supposed to have darkened naturally over time under the influence of weathering. I won't even go into the fact that there is no form of water at the castle whatsoever... Media outlets have reported that those who started the fire were Romani and readers have discussed that very point online. That information was immediately taken up by the director of Betliar Museum, Eva Lazarová, who even criticized the low fines that are currently levied against the burning of grass. Minister Krajcer also made sure to point out that our 'inadaptable co-citizens' must be brought into line. It is forbidden to burn grass and it is certainly wrong to do so, but it is just as sick to put the blame on 'unidentified perpetrators' who are allegedly members of a minority in the interest of distracting attention from one's own responsibility."

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