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Čáslav takes tough line with Romany newcomers amidst fears of racial problems
20-09-2011  Daniela Lazarova

As the authorities struggle to deal with growing racial tension in the north of the country, the town of Čáslav, east of Prague is ringing alarm bells and taking steps to prevent a similar scenario unfolding on its own premises. With between 100 and 150 Romanies newly arrived in town, Čáslav is scrambling to prevent the creation of a ghetto and approving strict measures to ensure law and order.

Illustrative photo The arrival of a large number of Romanies –most of them poverty-stricken and jobless – is believed to be the work of housing speculators. Similar scenarios created problems in the north of the country where street wars between Romany gangs –old-settlers and newcomers - in Varsdorf and Nový Bor stirred fear and created a wave of anti-Romany sentiment among the majority population. The Čáslav authorities say that while they cannot restrict hotels and boarding houses in their activities – they will do everything in their power to secure law and order.

The town has already taken the unusual step of prohibiting drinking in public –approved by a unanimous vote - and intends to regulate gambling as soon as a recently approved law comes into force and gives it additional powers. The town’s deputy mayor Jiří Havlíček says other measures are in the pipeline as well.

Jiří Havlíček “Part of the welfare benefits jobless people get are paid out in the form of food vouchers, we have increased the number of social workers checking out applicants and we cooperate closely with the police in monitoring casinos so that welfare benefits do not end up being used for that purpose.”

While the town’s newly arrived inhabitants feel hard done by, there are already rumbles of discontent among the locals who say that the environment has changed with their arrival and that they no longer feel safe.

“There are now children begging out in the streets. They have no problem approaching you and asking for 20 crowns and some of them are quite rude to the town’s elderly inhabitants.”

“Its not safe to walk here in the evenings – the park and pedestrian zone is always full of them.”

Čáslav The town’s mayor Jaromir Strnad says business interests are behind the newly created problem. He claims that the owners of the town’s four boarding houses have come to realize that not only will they be filled to capacity all year round but that they also eligible for a social housing contribution from the state, ensuring a steady flow of funds at a time when business would otherwise be slow. Two of those boarding house owners have already given way in the face of mounting pressure from the town hall and the locals –one has promised to sell the property to the town hall which will find an alternative use for it, the other says her tenants will have to go by the end of the year since she is planning a big renovation.

As things now appear Čáslav may be able to prevent ethnic unrest, but only by making the 150 newcomers pack up and move on –taking their problems to their next destination.

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