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Slovak media blames Romani boys for castle fire, ultra-right party demonstrates against them

Bratislava, 29.3.2012 18:39, (ROMEA)
The fire at Krásna Hôrka earlier this month.

The Slovak media are reporting that two boys aged 11 and 12 are responsible for the recent fire at the Krásna Hôrka castle. However, the reporting on this case from the beginning has been so full of contradictions that the information should not be considered reliable.

Should a court confirm that the boys were to blame for the fire, they may have to pay restitution for the damages caused for the rest of their lives. News server tvnoviny.sk is reporting that the insurer of the castle will probably never be reimbursed the full amount of the damage, which it estimates at EUR 8 million. "The firm has the right to be reimbursed in full should a court find someone guilty of causing the damage," said Zuzana Hliváková of the Generali Slovensko insurance company, which is one of the insurers of Krásna Hôrka castle.

If the guilty party is younger than 14, the insurance company can seek reimbursement from his or her legal guardian, i.e., from the parents. Should the guilty party not pay up, his or her assets will be seized. "For damage in the millions it is impossible to collect the entire amount," Hliváková admitted.

Some media outlets are reporting that two boys were lighting a cigarette on 10 March in the field down below the castle. The dry grass caught fire and a strong wind caused the fire to reach the castle roof, which was completely destroyed. The interior was also damaged, but more than 90 % of the exhibits were saved.

Tensions have reportedly risen among local residents since the fire. The "whites" are said to blame Romani people for destroying the castle, which has been a tourist attraction for the village. Romani parents did not allow their children to go to school for the first few days after the fire because they were concerned other children would take revenge on them. The ultra-right party Slovenská pospolitost (Slovak Solidarity) even convened a protest in the village beneath the castle. Police prevented their march from entering the Romani settlement.

Gejza Milko, a Romani member of the Košice regional government, has stood up for the boys. "Those children come from decent Romani families. They regularly attend school, their parents work, and they own their own home," Milko said.

Of course, none of the reporting done by the media on this incident can be considered reliable. The information presented might be true, or it might be completely misleading. We infer this from the way in which the Slovak media outlets and some Czech media outlets have reported on the incident to date.

The first claims were that the castle had been set on fire by Romani people from the local settlement who had been burning grass. Slovak Culture Minister Daniel Krajcer immediately "sharply criticized the fact that the blaze had probably been caused by inadaptable citizens living near the castle".

From adult Romani people burning grass, the media suddenly was reporting on Romani children: TV JOJ reported that it was Romani children who had been burning grass below the castle. It then turned out that no one had been burning any grass and that those reports had been untrue. Next the media started to report that the grass had actually been set alight by two boys, aged 11 and 12, when they tried to light a cigarette.

People from the adjacent Romani settlement helped put out the fire. News server váš.čas.sk reported that "the families of the boys concerned do not live in the settlement, but directly in the village." So from the first claim that Romani people from the settlement had caused the fire by burning grass, the information shifted to the level of two boys accidentally causing a fire while trying to smoke - two boys who probably are not from the Romani settlement, but directly from the village of Krásnohorské podhradie.

To this day it is not certain whether those two boys really caused the fire. Even if Romani boys were involved, the question would still remain as to how the castle roof could have caught fire so quickly from the burning grass. Of course, we will not find an explanation in the media, but one is being offered 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 deflecting attention away from one's own responsibility."

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