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26-02-2000 - Dita Asiedu

February 22th, 1998
On Sunday, Jan Brazda, head of the police force of the Czech town of Plzen, was proud to announce to the press that there has been a positive development in its fight against racism. Dita Asiedu has more.

The police force has managed to track down the headquarters of a skinhead movement organization in Plzen, which is located in the western part of the Czech Republic. During its operation it secured 140 cassette tapes, 161 compact discs, 500 badges, and a large number of fascist printed matter. The police arrested 12 people of which 3 can expect prison sentences. This operation paralyzed the skinhead movement so much that a planned international meeting called "Bohemia Hammer Skin" which was to take place in Linich, close to Plzen, was called off by its organizers. The police have also managed to identify distributors of fascist gadgets as well as get a hold of a journal which contained the names and addresses of skinhead movement followers. According to Brazda, some of the managers of such skinhead movements that have been arrested can expect to spend 2 to 8 years in prison.

The police operation is viewed as a success all over the Czech Republic. As this was the first time since November 1989 that an arrest of distributors of neo-nacist material was made, this operation was especially appreciated by the Movement for Civic Solidarity and Tolerance, known here as HOST. HOST believes this to be a major turning-point in the police's fight against racism and neo-nacism and expects to see a tougher attitude. "Repression alone will not solve the problem", Michal Horak, a member of HOST noted in an interview with CTK News Agency. "This group in society needs to be fought with a suitable preventive strategy, which ought to be adopted by the government, self-government, and parliament", he concluded.



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February 17th, 1998
The Swedish Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs dealing with the international development of migration and political asylum, Pierre Schori, asked Czech President Vaclav Havel on Tuesday to support EU programs aimed at minority citizens. Dita Asiedu has more.

Schori held talks in Prague, with top Czech government officials, including Foreign Minister, Jan Kavan, and government's envoy for human rights, Petr Uhl, mainly concentrating on the EU's view on the Roma Issue. President Havel is to guarantee his support for EU projects which are to help ethnical minority groups, refugees, and immigrants before the Czech Republic attains EU membership.

According to President Havel's speaker, Ladislav Spacek, Schori stated that Vaclav Havel could be the heart and strong personality that the series of EU projects currently lack. Schori, on behalf of the EU, gathers programs of individual countries that support minority groups. The goal is to get more widespread cooperation, geared towards this issue, within the EU organs. According to Spacek, one of the first projects is to entail communication between the Czech and Swedish Youth of Roma ethnicity.

During a meeting with President Havel, Schori stated that the Roma Issue is not only faced by the Czech Republic. "We are talking about a dilemma faced by all of Europe, even in Sweden we see a separation of different social groups", Schori's spokesman noted.

The Czech President in return revealed that until now, the Czech Republic, as opposed to other democratic states, covered up its problems with Roma ethnic groups. That is why all prepared programs will be welcomed as they are reasonable and focus on the future. He furthermore made it clear, according to spokesman Spacek, that minority group support is his priority and that his cooperation can be counted on.

Schori showed appreciation of Havel's initiative in the Fenomen holocaust project which was to stimulate research on the Roma and Jewish holocausts and clarify gray areas in Czech history. He also recalled ten years ago when Havel, who was a dissident at the time, received the price of Olof Palme which was given to him in appreciation of his fight for human rights.



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February 13th, 1998
Czech President Vaclav Havel pledges support for public collection to move Lety pig farm.

President Havel has promised to support a public collection to raise funds for the removal of the industrial pig farm from the site of the World War II labour camp at Lety. Havel was speaking after a meeting with Petr Uhl, the government special envoy for human rights, who came up with the idea for the collection. Uhl said the President considered the Lety controversy to be a general problem surrounding the recognition of the Romany Holocaust.

Thousands of Romanies were interned at Lety during the war, where they were were worked to death in a quarry. Around three hundred died during a typhus epidemic, and most of the others subsequently perished at Auschwitz. A pig farm was built on the site of the Lety camp during the 1970s.



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January 28th, 1998
British Junior Home Office Minister, Mike O'Brien has praised the Czech Republic's approach to solving the situation of the Roma population. After talks with visiting Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, O'Brien has confirmed that Britain does not consider re-imposing a visa requirement for Czech citizens.

"The Czech government has been approaching the problems around Roma asylum seekers very seriously and there is nothing to be criticised about its work - they're doing what they can," O'Brien told the Czech CTK news agency on Wednesday. "Regarding the fact that the Czech cabinet has been trying hard to solve this problem, nothing stands in the way for the Czech Republic to enter the European Union," the British Junior Home Office Minister said. He added, however, that although Britain does not plan to re-impose visas for Czech travellers, it has been closely monitoring the situation.

The British official has pointed out that his country is changing its asylum policy by - among other things - removing the so far easy access to social benefits and by increasing the number of centres where asylum seekers will be concentrated. Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan has told journalists that Prague is trying to solve the very nature of the Roma problem and not only the tip of the iceberg. According to Kavan, both sides have agreed to exchange information and experience gained from their concerted efforts aimed at combating international crime and illegal migration.

During his recent visit to the Czech Republic, Mr.O'Brien expressed the conviction that the Roma people were fleeing from the Czech Republic for economic reasons, not because of persecution. "But the asylum system has been designed to assist the persecuted, not the poor," he noted. According to the data from the British Home Office, 450 Romanies from the Czech Republic asked for asylum in Britain last year alone. This number does not include their family members.



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January 26th, 1998
It is not correct to say that leading Czech officials have failed to sufficiently denounce xenophobia and signs of racial discrimination in Czech society. At least according to Foreign Minister Jan Kavan.

Last week, two prominent members of the American Congressional Helsinki Committee, Christopher Smith and Steny Hoyer, told Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Palous that the cabinet must denounce racially-motivated attacks in the Czech Republic,

"They were either listening or reading poorly," Minister Kavan said in an interview to the Czech news agency CTK. "Many of us have spoken out against racism several times. What matters is that our struggle against prejudice and xenophobia should not be narrowed to mere vociferous statements," Kavan said.

He said it is important to agree on concrete measures and legislation in the sphere of racial discrimination and violent crime. The Czech cabinet, he said, wants wanted to combine this with a number of measures designed to raise the educational level of Romany children and the representation of Romanies in self- governing bodies.

After British leading officials such as Deputy Home Minister Mike O'Brien had been briefed on the Czech cabinet's policy in this sphere, they came to the conclusion that it was making a real effort, Kavan said. "It is impossible, though, to change the way of thinking overnight. This would be impossible in the USA as well," he added.

According to Kavan, the criticism by the Congress committee was based on rather outdated information. If its members studied the measures the cabinet had already taken, including an anti-racist campaign, and the legislation drafted by Deputy Premier in Charge of Legislation Pavel Rychetsky and Human Rights Commissioner Petr Uhl, they would certainly withdraw their criticism, he added.



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January 22th, 1998
State-Attorneys of the eastern region of the Czech Republic declared war on racially motivated criminals, who can be proven to be part of the skinhead movement.

Chief State-Attorney of Olomouc, Ivo Istvan, told journalists on Thursday, that attorneys want to send a clear message as to what their view on the skinhead movement is by proposing a higher sentence for criminal skinheads than has been given so far. Without no avail, they intend to battle anyone who, driven by a racist ideology, attacks a person because of the colour of his skin. "We will ask for a higher sentence for racially motivated criminals who have been proven to be part of the skinhead movement, than for criminals who have done the same act but are not part of it", Istvan said.

On Wednesday, he met with state-attorneys of the region of Moravia who were faced with tens of new racially motivated cases last year, to talk about a stricter attitude. According to Istvan, a distinction between those who are part of the movement and those who are not cannot be a problem for the police who are closely monitoring it.

He also complained that the current penal code does not distinguish between someone who commits a racially motivated crime, with racism as part of his ideology from another who commits the same crime but from an affectation such as a neighbourly dispute, for example. He furthermore noted, that in the past, attorneys have asked many courts to handle the two groups of criminals differently by giving different sentences.

But these have been weak. Speaking to CTK News Agency he pointed out: "When skinheads got together and demonstrated their power during a court case of a racially motivated crime, then the sentence was not big enough. That is why we are trying to be tougher", he concluded.

Premier Milos Zeman's government has decided to be even harder on the skinhead movement. The Premier himself has several times proposed that it should be prohibited by law but that existing law does not allow it. As a result, the government intends to create a special police force against skinheads that will work closely with the Czech Intelligence Service.



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January 14th, 1998
British junior home office minister Mike O'Brien who on Tuesday severly criticized the Czech government for allowing the coutry's Roma minority to live in inhumaine conditions has now softened his tone.

Mr. O'Brien said that most Roma asylum seekers were fleeing poverty, not persecution and stressed the need to deal with the problem in the Czech Republic. Peter Smith attended the press conference after Mike O'Brien's meeting with Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, and heard the British junior Home Office Minister stress that Britain strongly supported the Czech Republic's membership of the European Union.

The British visitor also spoke about the re-imposition of visas for Slovak citizens, triggered off by the number of asylum seekers from that country. As for Czechs visiting Britain, Mike O'Brien sees the situation differently:

Poslech:
RealAudio ~ Download

Mr. O'Brien cited his visit to Brno as an example of the breakdown in Czech-Roma relations

Poslech:
RealAudio ~ Download

According to Mr. O'Brien, certain public figures in the Czech Republic are only worsening the situation - in particular the Mayor of Usti nad Labem, whose plan to build a wall in the town to isolate the Roma community has made the headlines in Britain

Poslech:
RealAudio ~ Download

After the press conference, Peter Smith asked Mr. O'Brien whether the whole Roma issue was threatening to severely damage British-Czech relations..

Poslech:
RealAudio ~ Download



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January 11th, 1998
The International Romany Union has demanded immediate financial help to former inmates of Nazi concentration camps in occupied Europe. The appeal, addressed to the governments of the world, was released by the IRU presidium which at the weekend met in the central Bohemian town of Kolin east of Prague.

The International Romany Union associates organisations of Roma and Sinth activists throughout the world. It said at the weekend that the organisations would ask governments worldwide to provide financial assistance to Romany survivors of the Holocaust.

Ivan Vesely of the Czech-based Roma Civic Initiative told correspondents that the appeal was also for donations to finance regional studies of the genocide of Roma people in World War II and projects designed to counter racist expressions and attitudes against ethnic minorities.

In a separate memorandum the IRU also asked for help in developing Roma cultural institutions.

According to Vesely, historical records prove that the Nazis considered Romanies, like Jews, an inferior race and planned their extermination. Many Roma survivors of Nazi concentration camps bear physical as well as mental scars caused by torture and inhumane handling at the hands of their nazi tormentors. Thus far, only Romanies who live in Germany have been partly compensated for their suffering, Vesely said.

Romany property and assets were largely confiscated by the Nazis, including their factories, businesses and variety shows. Their cultural centres, churches and theatres in the Ukraine, in former Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia -- once a fertile breeding ground for Roma talent -- were closed down and destroyed when the Nazis invaded.

According to the memorandum, the fall of Communism after 1989 brought about an upsurge of until then dormant anti-Roma sentiments, racism and discrimination on ethnic grounds. There are an estimated 12 million Roma people in Europe and the memorandum stressed that together, they constitute a single nation with an indigenous language, shared traditions and culture. It is a shame that the Roma nation today stands alone, isolated and is being discriminated against.



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January 9th, 1998
The Czech Helsinki Committee has voiced serious concerns over the investigation of last year's killing of a middle-aged Romany man.

In May last year, Milan Lacko was beaten unconcious by skinheads and left lying in a road - where he was subsequently killed by an oncoming vehicle. The skinheads have been charged with causing bodily harm, not with murder.

The Czech Helsinki Committee said it calls for an "uncompromising approach strictly adhering to the law" to be taken by bodies dealing with the case - and for a more active role from the ministries of Justice and the Interior in ensuring this.



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January 8th, 1998
Less than a fourth of the Czechs polled in a recent survey would support erecting a memorial to the victims of a World War Two concentration camps for Romanies in Lety near the South Bohemian town of Pisek.

Another fourth of the respondents were indifferent to the problem and two fifths of those polled said they were against.

An exclusive survey by the STEM polling agency for the public service Czech Radio and Czech Television shows that few people would send donations to the memorial fund and about one quarter of those asked believe that ethnic Roma people suffered less under the Nazis than Jews.

The site of the former camp is today occupied by a pig farm.



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January 1st, 1998
President Vaclav Havel said in a prerecorded New Year speech on Czech public radio and television that barriers were emerging between ethnic groups and divisions were appearing in politics.

"We long ago pulled down the great wall which divided us from democratic Europe but equally we tolerate the slow and inconspicuous growth of new walls, no better than those which fell," Havel said.

He called on Czechs to renew the spirit which brought down totalitarianism in 1989 and strengthen their will to combat evil.

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