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Romanies warn of mass emigration if government does not deal with far-right violence
24-11-2008 - Jan Richter
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.

Milan Ferenc 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 protesters.

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.”

Photo: CTK 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 abroad.”

Kumar Vishwanatan 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.

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