Anna Poláková: My family faced attacks|
"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.
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
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
It affected you somehow as a family that they were continuing this
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
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