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Anna Poláková: My family faced attacks
07-06-2009 - Vít Pohanka

Anna Poláková (Photo: Jana Šustová) "Our family faced physical attacks by neo-Nazis, so we decided to leave for Canada," explains Anna Poláková, head of the Roma broadcasting section of Czech Radio. Skinheads attacked her son several years ago and, even though they were sentenced for it, continued to threaten her family.

"I believe it would have been naive to risk further attacks and another court case, not to mention that when one knows what the situation is like one must really consider where to work, whether to stay, whether to carry on as one has, being aware that one is risking the life of one's children or someone else in the family. That is what it is like! Just consider, that during the past 20 years, more than 30 Roma have died this way. Once I know that, precisely because I do this work and I am aware of what is going on, then I have to consider the situation. Protecting my family won in the end, exactly because of the experiences I have had," Poláková emphasized. She and her entire family requested asylum in Canada this week.

Anna Poláková recording an interview with Kumar Vishwanathan (Photo: Jana Šustová) Her son Marek, who was attacked by skinheads several years ago, does not trust the Czech authorities anymore, because the attacks continued: "I trust no one in the Czech Republic anymore. It happened to me so many times that the guys and I were in a bar and the Czechs yelled at us 'Get out of here you gypsies!' When the cops came, they just yelled at us some more, sent us home, and did nothing about it."

What made you decide to leave for Canada?

My experiences, the growth of neo-Nazism, the support of a large part of society for what is happening today, the frequent attacks on my family, and fear for my family

Your son Marek was attacked several years ago, can you tell us what happened?

Marek was leaving a discotheque when he was attacked at the Palmovka metro station by four skinheads who were kicking him, and his life was saved by a police patrol that happened to drive by and see it. The attackers ran off and my son was lying there unconscious. They took him to the hospital and later I found out he was there. There was a court case and all the attackers were found guilty. They received conditional sentences with the justification that they were young people whom such a light sentence would set on the right path - the authorities did not want to criminalise them. The paradox is that these people continue their activities. Four years after the attack on my son, I saw one of the attackers at the National Party demonstration at Lety, when their chair, Edelmannová, was setting up their counter-memorial there, and I warned the media that he was there. He was carrying a National Party sign, so I pointed him out to the media. These people have not been set on the right path at all, they are continuing their activities.

It affected you somehow as a family that they were continuing this activity?

Marek Polák (Photo: Jana Šustová) There was another court case through which Marek was compensated – each of the attackers was supposed to pay him CZK 25 000 as compensation. Two of them paid the compensation and the others did not, so we complained. On the basis of that, after a short time my husband was then attacked by friends of the perpetrators, who asked why we had turned them in, why there had been a court case, claiming that Marek had invented the entire thing and saying we would pay for it as a family. One week after that, they attacked my husband again and beat him up, and one week after that, we were extorted to return the CZK 50 000 that had been paid to us.

I presume you warned the police or tried to defend yourself?

We did our best to defend ourselves; through Ondřej Cakl I reached the police, he gave us some contacts there. These attackers are already a known quantity - they knew about them, they had committed previous crimes. I know they were interrogated, but the next day they changed their phone numbers and then nothing could be done because there was no evidence. They could not convict them of what we said had occurred. However, it continued, they attacked us again and threatened us for having turned them in.

They threatened you by telephone, or how?

They threatened my husband, they always found him somehow.

On the street, or where?

On the street. My husband kept it a secret from us, and we both kept those first attacks secret from our son. We did not want him to know. After 14 days, when the extortion occurred, we told our son, because when he was attacked in 2002 we wanted him to leave the country, not to live here anymore. I have family abroad and we did not want him to be here, we were afraid the attacks would continue and we were in shock. At the time my son said four people attacked him, not the whole country, and that he was not going to quit his studies and leave his home because of four people. He did not suspect it would continue. None of us suspected what would come, that everything would be reversed. If I were to compare it to 1997, when the Roma were emigrating, the situation now is essentially worse. Neo-Nazis are marching through the streets, they are holding marches in almost every town. The situation is much worse. It is visible and what’s more, when they march down the streets giving the Nazi salute, I do not see the state intervening forcefully so that people who feel threatened would not be threatened and would know that the state is with them and will protect them. That did not happen, not in Janov or anywhere else. We considered everything – what we had gone through, what the threat was and what might happen - because we know they have our addresses from the court case. One of those sentenced was represented by the lawyer Skácel, a leader in the National Party, so we knew we were in danger.

This has been going on for several years, so what was the final impulse that made you personally decide to go to Canada?

The most recent impulse, or the last but one, was the fact that they attacked my daughter Helena at the end of last year at a Rossmann drugstore where she had gone to buy something and left her little dog waiting outside. Ten minutes later, the police were there. Five guys and some woman were verbally attacking her with vulgarisms and racist insults, saying she did not deserve such a dog and had been abusing it. They surrounded her, yelling at her, and the girl just did not know what to do, because the Municipal Police were there, but they did not call the State Police to address it, or to check the people’s identities, or to protect her. The police officers just said to her: “You can’t do anything with this, that’s just how people are.” When my daughter finally got away from that knot of people she did not go to the police to report it, she went to my mother’s, to her grandma, and she totally collapsed. They called my son, he was at school: “Hey, go get Sofinka at the nursery school, because Helenka has collapsed, she is here and she is completely beside herself.” I didn’t even know about the attack, even though it concerned us, I found out about it two days later, the children kept it from me. All the attacks aimed at my family were kept secret from me by them all. I found out about it completely by chance, when my sister arrived and started talking about what had happened to Helenka. The children were unable to tell me because they know how terribly worried I get. They knew it was bad, by now they were even afraid of me, because I take such things badly. So I went to the police, I reported it, and two months later I was notified that the Municipal Police had protected my daughter and offered her the opportunity to file charges – but that is not what happened at all. I just added that paper to the materials I have a whole pile of, and by then I could no longer believe that anyone would ever protect us, because the will to do so is completely lacking.

If I understand you correctly, you have stopped believing in the police, but did you try to defend yourselves, for example, by drawing attention (I do not want to use bureaucratic language) about this to a higher police authority or a lawyer so you could seek justice?

On the one hand, I did that once already, when my son was beaten. That made it to court, and the fact that we drew attention to ourselves meant it all lasted for several more years. I no longer had the strength to make my children go public again, because I was afraid it would harm them, as it had already harmed them once. I already saw one case through to the end, and then my children were in danger all the same, because they were publicly known. I did not have the strength - we have already done that, going to court. Back then we did not leave the country, we believed we would get justice, but in the end we did not.

Since 2004 the Czech Republic has been in the EU, so why did you need to go to Canada when you could go completely freely to Britain, Ireland, or anywhere else in the EU?

Naturally we considered that, but in my opinion the rise in neo-Nazism stretches across all of Europe, it’s happening all over Europe, so we picked the place we would be farthest from it.

Many people say: “Well, if you went to Britain you could not request political asylum because it is an EU Member State, and here in Canada you can request it, you will get welfare and someone else will take care of you.” What would you say to that argument?

I wanted to go as far away as possible in order to protect my children. I have had the experiences I have had. The other thing is that it was very hard for us to go to Canada, because no one in my family has ever been on welfare. I have always been employed, and our aim has always been to give the children an education. My son Marek is a college student, and I have been studying at college myself, at Masaryk University, and now I have interrupted my studies by leaving. My daughter has graduated from high school and had the opportunity to study at the American university here. She was one of the hot candidates for a scholarship at that university, which is open to supporting Roma students in the Czech Republic. I have interrupted all of that, and it is clear to me that it will be terribly difficult to work my way back up to something like that here.

You were working or rather you still are working for Czech Radio in the Czech Republic, you have a big overview of what is going on – do you really think the situation is so bad that even a person like you, who is well-oriented in this society, cannot receive justice and protection for her family?

As I have already said, I did not receive justice. I have already been to court, and to risk more attacks and more court cases – I would be naive to do that, not to mention that when one sees what the situation really is, one really must consider whether to stay and carry on with the awareness that one is risking the lives of one’s children or someone else in the family. That is simply what it is like! Consider that during the last 20 years more than 30 Roma have died in such circumstances. Once I know that, because I work in this area and I am oriented in it, then I have to consider the situation and the need to protect my family won out – precisely because of the experiences I have had.

Translated by Gwendolyn Albert

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