Romanies warn of mass emigration if government does not deal with far-right violence|
Just a week ago Czech neo-Nazis fought a pitched battle with police who
prevented them from marching through a Romany neighbourhood of a north
Bohemian town. With the extremists threatening more of the same, one Romany
group has issued a stark warning to the government – if far-right
extremism is not addressed, there could be mass emigration among the
country’s Romany population.
When around 500 supporters of the far-right Workers’ Party were prevented
from marching through a Romany ghetto in Litvínov last Monday, a
three-hour battle with the police ensued. The local authorities had failed
to ban the march or even disband it once the masked and in many cases armed
radicals gathered for the protest. Even more alarmingly, the marching
neo-Nazis were cheered by non-Roma locals, who openly sympathized with the
Milan Ferenc, the head of a Romany association in Karviná, northern
Moravia, has written to the government – warning that if such scenes are
repeated, many members of his community will leave the country.
“There are quite a lot of us here in Karviná, so these are natural
reactions, natural worries that something similar to Litvínov might happen
here, too. We fear that we might have to hide, and not leave our homes
during the day to avoid being attacked.”
Romany emigration from the Czech Republic has occurred in the past. In
1997, the government of Canada re-introduced visas for Czech citizens after
a large number of Romanies applied for asylum in the country. In the last
decade, many Roma families have also left for the United Kingdom.
Kumar Vishwanatan has worked with the Romany community in north Moravia
for a number of years. He believes that although the community is very
concerned by the threat of racial violence, for most Romanies emigration is
not a practical option.
“I really think that the Roma are extremely concerned and extremely
upset about what is happening. And it’s not just the Roma; a lot of
people I know from the Czech majority are extremely concerned that slowly,
the level of violence, the threat of a large-scale conflict is growing, and
that it should be addressed as soon as possible. I think that some families
might decide to leave for fear for their children and women. But on the
other hand, I think that most people will have no opportunity to go
The government has announced plans to ban the far-right Workers’ Party.
However, experts say a much more comprehensive approach is needed to deal
with the issue of Romany ghettos. Kumar Vishwanatan again.
“I think we need good, committed and sustained field work, community
work. That’s extremely important now. As for banning the far right-wing
Dělnická strana, the Workers’ Party, that’s what the government can
do. The rest of the things should be done by the civic society, building
bridges between non-Roma and Roma in Janov, trying to heal the wounds that
are really there.”
An agency aimed at combating the social exclusion of Romanies was
established by the government in January this year. But it has not done
much due to a lack of funding and disputes among the members of the
government. Sociologists say that if the situation is not dealt with soon,
extremists will gain even more public support and eventually win positions
in municipal and regional governments. In the meantime, the town of
Litvínov will have to brace itself for more violence: three more marches
are expected to take place between now and the end of the year.