Čáslav takes tough line with Romany newcomers amidst fears of racial
As the authorities struggle to deal with growing racial tension in the
north of the country, the town of Čáslav, east of Prague is ringing alarm
bells and taking steps to prevent a similar scenario unfolding on its own
premises. With between 100 and 150 Romanies newly arrived in town, Čáslav
is scrambling to prevent the creation of a ghetto and approving strict
measures to ensure law and order.
The arrival of a large number of Romanies –most of them poverty-stricken
and jobless – is believed to be the work of housing speculators. Similar
scenarios created problems in the north of the country where street wars
between Romany gangs –old-settlers and newcomers - in Varsdorf and Nový
Bor stirred fear and created a wave of anti-Romany sentiment among the
majority population. The Čáslav authorities say that while they cannot
restrict hotels and boarding houses in their activities – they will do
everything in their power to secure law and order.
The town has already taken the unusual step of prohibiting drinking in
public –approved by a unanimous vote - and intends to regulate gambling
as soon as a recently approved law comes into force and gives it additional
powers. The town’s deputy mayor Jiří Havlíček says other measures are
in the pipeline as well.
“Part of the welfare benefits jobless people get are paid out in the
form of food vouchers, we have increased the number of social workers
checking out applicants and we cooperate closely with the police in
monitoring casinos so that welfare benefits do not end up being used for
While the town’s newly arrived inhabitants feel hard done by, there are
already rumbles of discontent among the locals who say that the environment
has changed with their arrival and that they no longer feel safe.
“There are now children begging out in the streets. They have no problem
approaching you and asking for 20 crowns and some of them are quite rude to
the town’s elderly inhabitants.”
“Its not safe to walk here in the evenings – the park and pedestrian
zone is always full of them.”
The town’s mayor Jaromir Strnad says business interests are behind the
newly created problem. He claims that the owners of the town’s four
boarding houses have come to realize that not only will they be filled to
capacity all year round but that they also eligible for a social housing
contribution from the state, ensuring a steady flow of funds at a time when
business would otherwise be slow. Two of those boarding house owners have
already given way in the face of mounting pressure from the town hall and
the locals –one has promised to sell the property to the town hall which
will find an alternative use for it, the other says her tenants will have
to go by the end of the year since she is planning a big renovation.
As things now appear Čáslav may be able to prevent ethnic unrest, but
only by making the 150 newcomers pack up and move on –taking their
problems to their next destination.