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Hundreds of Romanies protest against extremism at nation-wide rallies
04-05-2009  Jan Richter

Around 2,500 Romanies took to the streets in 13 towns and cities around the Czech Republic on Sunday to protest against the growing threat of racism and extremism. In their first-ever nationwide protest, members of the country’s largest minority accused the government of not doing enough to protect them.

Photo: CTK “Stop the violence”, “No more Nazis”, and “This is our home” were some of the slogans about 500 Romanies chanted at a rally in the south Moravian city of Brno on Sunday. The city’s central square was one of 13 locations in the Czech Republic where the “chain demonstration” was held to protest against the growing threat of extremism. Participants also expressed support for the victims of a recent arson attack on a Romany family which injured three people and left a two-year-old in critical condition. One of the Romanies who came to the rally in Brno was Vlasta Miholová, who says that all they want is to live normal lives.

Photo: CTK “How are we supposed to face this? What should we do against it? They all look down on us here because we are Gipsies; they say Gipsies steal everywhere and cause trouble but that doesn’t happen only among the Roma. I am Czech, I was born here. And we don’t want any racism here; we don’t want to be scared. We want to live here freely, we want to work. We want to live like anybody else.”

Apart from the local Romanies, the Brno event was attended by several dozen non-Roma. Among them was Don Sparling, a Canadian who has lived in Brno for some 30 years.

“It’s great. Finally somebody stood up. I think it’s quite noticeable that there aren’t any politicians here of course. There’s hardly any politician in the country that has spoken out openly and clearly about the increasing danger of the neo-Nazis. But otherwise, it’s a nice little event, and it’s great that the Roma organized it themselves, and a lot of non-Roma are here as well.”

Photo: CTK Some politicians did however appear at other locations. Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg came to the gathering in Prague, while the governor of South Moravia, Michal Hašek, spoke at the meeting in Hodonín. The minister for human rights and minorities addressed the rally in Litvínov, which in November saw one of the biggest neo-Nazi marches in years. Two of Sunday’s events – in Ostrava and Chomutov – were attacked by extremists but riot police managed to block them off. One of the organizers of the Brno event was Romany entrepreneur Jozef Kotlar, who called on the government to take a firm stance on extremism. He appreciates the fact that the rallies took place, but they will mean very little without effective action by the authorities.

Photo: CTK “I think this event has met its purpose – Brno is a big city with some 15,000 Roma living here. Also, a lot of non-Roma came. But rallies and protests will not resolve anything if the government does not make sure that the law is being observed. Nothing will happen until the authorities act against the extremists. Unless this happens, the only thing that will come out of this will be a news spot on TV.”

Meanwhile, the interim Prime Minister Jan Fischer said he would not abolish the position for the minister of human rights and minorities in the caretaker government, as he originally planned to do. At its last session, the outgoing government of Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek also approved a strategy for the fight against extremism. But with growing support for the ultra-right by the general public, curbing extremism in the Czech Republic may prove an uphill struggle.

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