Friday’s demonstration in Rumburk, originally convened to protest violent crime, deteriorated into streets full of locals blaming Romani residents for that crime. Reporting on the event continues to fill the pages of the Czech print media and radio and television broadcasts. Some reporters are warning that the long unresolved situation in socially excluded localities has escalated and is raising tensions among Romani people themselves, some of whom live in social exclusion. Other media outlets are reporting that politicians are responsible for events in Šluknov district and admit their responsibility.
The Czech Press Agency has published a report summarizing Friday’s events in Rumburk. Five people were detained; police have classified their offenses as misdemeanors (such as disobeying police) and have handed them over to the municipal authorities. When the brief demonstration came to an end, the roughly thousand-person strong crowd set off on a march past homes occupied by Romani residents and did its best to provoke conflicts with them.
"All five persons detained were charged with misdemeanors. They are now being processed, which means the charges are being handed over to the municipality," said Vojtěch Haňka, spokesperson for the Děčín Police, adding that the municipal misdemeanor commission could levy fines as high as CZK 1 000.
The crowd was shouting racist remarks about the Roma at a certain point and some people were even giving the Nazi salute, but police did not intervene against them until later. Police claim their delayed response was because there were too many children marching in the crowd for them to intervene safely. Protesters threw various objects through the windows of houses and also destroyed a fence. After the police intervention, the unannounced march turned into street warfare during which a small group of the most radical demonstrators did its best to attack a particular building from various sides.
The demonstrators wanted to revenge themselves against the residents of the building, who allegedly took part in an incident on 21 August, when a group of as many as 20 Romani people beat up six Czech youths. That incident was the match that lit the fuse of the already edgy atmosphere of ethnic friction in the town. A total of seven people have been charged in that incident, all of them with racially motivated battery; three of them have been charged with attempted grievous bodily harm and are in custody.
The Czech Government Inter-ministeral Commission on Roma Community Affairs, or rather the Romani members of that Commission, have issued a declaration on the situation in Šluknov district. In it, they condemn the individual perpetrators of both of the recent alleged felonies [i.e., the attacks in Nový Bor and Rumburk]. However, they also warn that it is not possible for the public to turn their opinion against all Romani people just because of the ethnic origin of these particular perpetrators, just as people cannot try to take justice into their own hands. The Commission called on the Czech PM to have the Czech Interior Ministry investigate the actions taken by police directly at the scene of all of these incidents. The Romani members of the Commission also distanced themselves from statements made by Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková, the chair of their Commission, who last week compared the brawl in Nový Bor where machetes were used to the planned arson attack committed by neo-Nazis against a Romani family in Vítkov in 2009.
Czech Press Agency, jb, translated by Gwendolyn Albert ROMEA