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Czech Republic: "Hating the Roma won't make your life better"

Czech Republic, 20.5.2014 19:31, (ROMEA)
Mr
Mr "Tibor" - lacerations to his head after his co-worker got two men to give him a brutal beating. (Photo: Mr "Tibor's" personal archive)

The following the story of a man who was brutally beaten because he is Roma, and it is worth publishing for several reasons. As a supervisor, he was responsible for evaluating the work of a colleague, which makes this a fairly banal story - except that he is Romani and the man he supervises is a member of the ultra-right.

Not only was that the main reason, the attack took place, but the perpetrator arranged for two other men to commit the crime. This was a "commissioned" beating, in other words.

We will be calling the victim "Mr Tibor", as he understandably does not want his real name published. His identity is known to our newsroom, of course.

At the end of this article you will find our interview with Mr Tibor. In it he describes his view of the case today, how he feels, what his health is like, and whether there is anything to learn from his experience.

Tibor works as a supervisor. His colleague Jiří Semjon was bothered by the fact that the person supervising him is Romani.

Testimony to the court has established that fact. Semjon first began by complaining about Tibor to his superiors.

"Semjon, as a member of the skinhead movement, was unable to deal with the fact that his supervisor was an ethnic Roma. It was humiliating for him. That is why, immediately after I became supervisor, he began complaining that I don't understand anything and did everything he could to get me fired," Tibor tells Romea.cz.

Mr Tibor said from the start that Semon's reasons were purely racist. "According to transcripts of his telephone conversations that were played in court, Semjon called some woman to tell her that when he testified about my attack to the police, he did his best to make it not look like a racial attack, but only so he could keep his job," he says.

When Semjon did not succeed in getting rid of Tibor by complaining at work, he decided to have him beaten up. That has been confirmed
by the verdict of the Regional Court in Ostrava dated 6 February 2013.

"First he complained to their common supervisor about the approach taken by the victim, and when that did not succeed, he decide to proceed in a different way... and because he knew that if he assaulted the victim himself he would be recognized, he decided to ask the co-defendants for help, whom he know to be sympathizers of radical movements," the verdict reads. Semjon agreed with two well-known recidivists that they would "pay [Tibor] back and punch him in the face".

The three perpetrators, all of whom have since been convicted, met in November 2011 in a restaurant. Tomáš Suchánek was asked to perform this service by Semjon, as was another acquaintance of his, who was a juvenile at the time and whose name we will not report.

According to the verdict, the whole matter played out as follows:  When both of the men agreed to the plan, Semjon took them after 22:00 to the final tram stop where he knew Mr Tibor would be exiting to go home after his shift. He described Tibor to them as an ethnic Roma.

When Semjon saw his supervisor get off of the tram, he pointed him out to the assailants. Then he kept his distance.

Both of the brawlers-for-hire followed Tibor to his residence, where, shouting "Kill the black swine", they attacked him. First they threw a plywood door that they found nearby at him and when he was knocked to the ground, they began repeatedly kicking him and beating him with a wooden stake they had found on the way.

They kicked and beat Mr Tibor in his head, body and limbs. He called for help, and began to lose consciousness after receiving about 10 - 15 blows to the head.

"One of those young guys said to me 'So you're going to call for help?' They were laughing and egging each other on, saying 'Kill the black swine'," Tibor tells Romea.cz.

The noise of the attack and the calls and moans of the victim caught the attention of tenants in the surrounding apartments, who shouted threats at the assailants that they were calling the police, forcing them to flee. The perpetrators caused Mr Tibor three lacerations to his head and many bruises to his head, chest, shoulders and arms.

He was incapable of working during November and December of 2011. For at least two to three weeks he was practically unable to properly move due to the pain.

During the trial, an expert witness proved that this was not a case of "light" bodily harm, as the defense claimed, stating that the attack was conducted with force that was medium-intensity at a minimum and probably mostly high-intensity, causing one of the lacerations on the victim's head to penetrate to his skull. The expert also said that the attack on the victim's eyes could have resulted in devastating injuries. 

With respect to the bruising on the victim's right arm, the expert said it later developed a so-called "pocket", which never occurs as a result of low-intensity violence, especially given that the victim was clothed when attacked. After his release home from hospital, Mr Tibor then had to visit a psychiatrist.

To this day he is in poor psychological health. "Ever since the attack he has experienced anxiety, panic, a permanent sense of threat when among others, and a need for increased psychopharmaceutical medications," the psychiatrist writes in her report. 

The juvenile perpetrator and Suchánek "acted even though they must have been aware due to the intensity of their blows and the nature of the instruments they used that they could cause [Tibor] grievous bodily harm," the judge said. According to the court, Semjon "conspired
for others to intentionally harm someone and committed that crime against him because of his ethnicity."  

The other two perpetrators committed actions that directly led to causing someone grievous bodily harm and did so because of his ethnicity. Semjon was convicted of battery.  

The court gave him a three-year suspended sentence, with a grace period of five years. He was also ordered not to use alcoholic beverages during his probation.

Semjon had previously been convicted four times of either battery or rioting. All of his sentences have been either suspended or took the form of community service work.

According to information from the police which was part of the trial, Semjon is an active member of the ultra-right and participates in a radical cell that commits football-spectator violence. He has participated in many ultra-right actions, concerts and marches throughout the territory of the Czech Republic.

The juvenile perpetrator who committed grievous bodily harm also received a three-year suspended sentence with a grace period of three years. The Superior Court reduced that sentence on appeal to two years with the three-year grace period.

Just like the other two perpetrators, the juvenile had also been convicted several times before. As for Suchánek, the court said he committed grievous bodily harm and rioting as an accomplice, both of which were felonies he had previously committed.

When evaluating the length of his sentence, the court took into consideration that he had been convicted in the past of the exact same crimes.  Suchánek got six years without the possibility of parole; an appeals court reduced the sentence to five years and six months.

All of the perpetrators must pay Mr Tibor compensation for the harm he has suffered in the amount of CZK 23 874.

Interview with Tibor: Hating the Roma won't make your life better

Q:  What in your view is the real reason Semjon had you beaten up?

A:  The real reason is the one the court stated in its verdict. I was assaulted because I was a Romani man who became his supervisor. Semjon was unable to accept that, just as he was unable to accept my objections to his work. We can't ignore the fact that those objections, according to witnesses, were never found to have been unjustified. No one but Semjon ever complained about me. I insisted from the start that he was biased against me. From the moment I became his supervisor, it was humiliating and unacceptable to him that a Romani man was evaluating his work. That is why he complained about me to my supervisor, saying I didn't understand anything and that everyone had complaints about me. He was hoping to immediately push me out of the supervisor position, which did not happen. I never did anything to humiliate him, certainly nothing on purpose. I never complained about him to our superiors, even though I had to repeatedly wake him up during working hours. Despite a strict ban on smoking, he smoked there repeatedly, but it never even occurred to me to complain about him. I don't like people who are always complaining and I don't do it myself. I always asked him politely to do things, just like anyone else. I never looked down my nose at him.  

Q:  How much of a determining factor was it that the perpetrators were advocates of right-wing extremism?

A:  I was under the false impression that people would treat me as I treated them. That's a mistake. These fascists, these neo-Nazis, these people with inferiority complexes will always condemn dark-skinned people irrespective of whether they are decent or not. Many of these "nice, peace-loving" Nazis have rich criminal pasts, such that I cannot believe they are all demonstrating for the rights of "decent people" and pointing the finger at all Roma as animals or subhumans. Those guys who almost cost me my life have been repeatedly convicted of violent crimes. Unlike them, I have a clean criminal record and I have never been investigated by the police. I daresay I am an ordinary, respectable person, who has gone to work his whole life for just a few crowns in wages. I live like a civilized, normal person. I have nothing to be ashamed of and I am glad my parents raised me to be who I am. Someone else might have been shaken up by this attack, someone else might have sought revenge, but I will not lower myself to the level of the people who attacked me.   

Q:  It's been two and a half years since the attack. How do you feel today health-wise, especially psychologically?

A:  I feel very bad both physically and psychologically. I am immediately tired, exhausted, without doing any physically demanding work. The physique and the psyche are interconnected. My state of health is not improving. I walk past the place where I was assaulted every day and the memories constantly return. I constantly relive the attack daily, at night I wake up with a closed throat, pain in my chest, sometimes headaches. I often feel bad right when I wake up. I am taking antidepressants and Neurol (Alprazolam). Without Neurol I would never make it to work. The moment I leave the apartment and start walking there, I am constantly tense. I am constantly afraid the attack will be repeated, which makes me skittish, wary, constantly checking out my surroundings. On the way to work, I experience panic attacks, states of anxiety, rather often. It begins with my heart pounding and tremors. I can't get enough air, I choke, my vision is blurred and I am totally exhausted. My knees buckle and I feel like I am about to die. I do my best to take deep breaths. I immediately take a Neurol, it's the only thing that helps. Sometimes it takes half an hour to pass. These states repeat during the day, at home and at work. I have to take Neurol five times a day. I can't sleep at night. I am impulsive and irritated rather often. I have visited a psychologist six times, it was recommended. She wants me to change my psychiatrist and check into a hospital. Her opinion is that if I don't begin treatment that is different within the next two years, then I will become an invalid who can't leave the apartment. The psychiatrist also recommended hospitalization. What else is there to say? I'm not living, but I am surviving. The medicine I have to take is expensive. This is all thanks to those criminals who call themselves patriots and present themselves as proud Czechs.  

Q: How is it at work, were there or are there problems because of this?

A: There are problems on two levels. After the attack, when I was able to work and when it was clear that the organizer of the attack was Semjon, I felt that certain people there hated me. Semjon had begun telling everyone his version of the story, saying that I had maligned him, made his life miserable, and that is why he had me beaten up. Naturally, that is not true, but some of those "stupid sheep" will believe anything, and to this day, that is how they behave toward me. They are not interested in the truth at all. Even if it were true, this is not how conflicts should be resolved, but it doesn't seem strange to them at all. In the end, to some people he is a hero and to some he's a poor guy they feel sorry for because he has been convicted. One of his friends even said to me one day that "Semjon has to work a 16-hour shift so he can afford to pay your compensation. The poor guy has no money because of you." I couldn't find the words to respond. Another problem is that because of my state of health, I often have problems properly concentrating on my work. I can't concentrate, I have memory loss. Because of the disease I suffer, I am at risk of losing my job. I am aware of this and I am doing everything I can to improve my health so I can begin living like everyone else does. I never had any problems like this before. On the contrary, I looked forward to going to work. I looked forward to every little thing. Now I have no joy of anything. I'm too afraid to go out on the weekend. I have lost some buddies, some friends, because of this. They don't understand what is going on with me. They've never experienced it.     

Q:  Will you be seeking compensation for personal injury in another lawsuit, a civil one?

A:  Yes I will.

Q:  What do you believe people could learn from your case?

A:  At a minimum, everyone who reads the newspaper, who follows things online or on television, should realize that whenever someone
slings mud at disabled people, at other ethnic groups, at the Roma, etc., they must find out what the real truth is. Not everything you read or see is true! It doesn't matter what someone's religion or skin color is, what matters is how they behave. Start thinking, don't let yourself be constantly influenced by the media, especially the tabloids, which often spread hatred and xenophobia. Stop being so short-sighted. Hating the Roma won't make your life better. 

František Kostlán, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Násilí, Násilí z nenávisti, Racism, Roma, Soud



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