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Roma parents sending children home from “nationalist” school in Karlovy Vary
25-06-2008 - Dominik Jůn
Several Roma parents have taken a drastic decision in the Czech town of Karlovy Vary. Rather than send their children to a school which is being “guarded” by a right-wing paramilitary group, they are instead keeping them at home.

Photo: CTK An elementary school in Karlovy Vary has become the scene of an unusual drama. Alleged attacks on white schoolchildren by Roma living in a nearby hostel have led a tiny right-wing political party, the National Party, to set up a paramilitary “National Guard” to protect the school. The police have also been watching the school, albeit from a distance. Now, Roma in the community have stated that they too will set up a social worker patrol in order to monitor the self-described “National Guard.”

Meanwhile, several Romany parents have withdrawn their children from the school for fear of exacerbating the current tensions. Milan Kováč is the deputy chair of the Karlovy Vary based Roma Civic Group. I asked him to explain what was behind this situation:

Two members of the 'National Guard' in Karlovy Vary, photo: CTK “No complaints have been lodged at the city council that people at this housing estate have been harming anybody or destroying property. And the Czech police have also not observed anything particularly untoward - which means that nothing is happening there – somebody has made it up. The 'National Guard' walked around houses and distributed leaflets, so the point is that they were agitating.”

And just what is this so-called National Guard?

“This ‘National Guard’ is a creation of the National Party, which is a political party which received only 0.17% in the last elections. By doing this, they are only seeking to make themselves more visible. And the media has jumped on it and all week they have been attacking us with falsehoods, misinformation and they even put words in the mouths of our organisation leaders that they didn’t say. All this is doing is giving this ‘National Guard’ publicity.”

Photo: CTK Whether this is true or not, there have been some white parents that have expressed gratitude for the controversial patrol. Crime is a particular problem among poor Roma communities and many white Czechs feel frightened. Yet critics of this kind of vigilantism maintain that the so-called “National Guard” is exploiting racial prejudices to make a bad situation worse. So how does the law view such a group? Milan Kováč again:

“Even the Interior Minister has stated that this is illegal. But at present, they haven’t broken any laws – they haven’t attacked anyone and they say that they are unarmed. But in fact, they are armed, because they carry butterfly knives. Yet, if you don’t break the law, then the police can’t do anything, but they have put some plain clothed police there to monitor the situation.”

Clearly, extreme measures seem almost normal during times of heightened fear. But whether local communities, civic groups and also the media will act responsibly to promote integration in Karlovy Vary rather than further segregation remains to be seen.

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