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Romanies call for nation-wide rallies to condemn racist attacks on their community
23-04-2009 - Jan Richter
The Czech Republic’s Romany community is outraged by the recent arson attack on one of its members which left a two-year-old girl fighting for her life and rendered eight people homeless overnight. Several Romany organizations have called on the authorities to stand up to growing extremism in the country, and are planning a nationwide protest to step up public opposition to the neo-Nazi movement.

Photo: A schoolteacher from the community of Vítkov, north Moravia where the torching took place, told reporters on Thursday that the locals were all appalled by Saturday’s attack in which unknown assailants threw Molotov cocktails into a Roma family house. The teacher said the attack was totally unexpected since relations between the majority population and the Romanies in the village had always been good. But the latest arson attack, in which a two-year-old girl suffered severe burns on 80 percent of her body, was the third torching of a Romany house in the last year. The country’s Romany community is extremely concerned by the growing number of neo-Nazi marches being held and the increasingly brutal physical attacks on Romanies. Ivan Veselý is the head of the NGO Dženo, and deputy chair of the government’s council on Romany issues.

Ivan Veselý, photo: Jana Šustová “That was the last drop for the Romany community in this country so we decided to organize a protest in towns and cities. We must show the government and the international community a civic attitude, a civic protest to push the authorities and the police to fight against extremists and neo-Nazis.”

The protests will take place at the same time on Sunday, May 3, in all the big cities and a number of other locations. The organizers are calling on all who condemn the recent attack to join in and they have also started a money collection for the victims who have been left without a roof over their heads. But Mr Veselý says that if the authorities are serious about cracking down on extremists, they have to get down to business.

Photo: Štěpánka Budková “The police, or the Ministry of Interior, have not put enough effective effort in the fight against extremism in the Czech Republic. You will find many mistakes which the interior minister made in the case of the Workers’ Party, a neo-Nazi group here in the Czech Republic.”

But better police work and a stricter approach to neo-Nazis alone is not likely to solve the problem. A study by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, which was released on Wednesday, shows that the discrimination of Romanies in the Czech Republic is more widespread than in any other EU country. Two thirds of Czech Romanies said they had been subjected to some form of discrimination in the past 12 months, while 83 percent of them feel that they do not have equal opportunities when it comes to getting an education, finding work, getting medical attention, being served in a restaurant or getting a bank loan. This is possibly the main reason for the dramatic, nearly 1,000 percent surge in the number of Czech Romany asylum claimants in Canada in the last two months. The planned nation-wide rally will show how much support from the majority population Czech Romanies can hope for.

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