Attack on Romani community in the Czech Republic
07 December 1999
The Brno-based Association of Roma in Moravia (ARM) reported that on August 27, 1999, approximately thirty persons described as skinheads attacked Roma living in several farmhouses in the village of Dvorek u Ohražovic, near Jaroměřice nad Rokytnou in the Třebič district of southern Moravia, Czech Republic. During the attack, two people were hurt, several cars and houses were damaged, and those Roma lucky enough to escape injury were threatened and fled in fear for their lives.
Roma have been living on a small farm in this area for over thirty years. Under Communism, the farm was state owned. However, after the changes that followed 1989, it changed hands. The new owner of the farm was the local municipality of Jaroměřice. This body reportedly sold some of the farm buildings — which at the time were being rented by Roma tenants — to two local individuals. One of the new landlords, Mr V.V., evidently decided to evict the Roma living in the buildings he bought. He accused the Roma of failing to pay rent, but the tenants maintain that these claims are false. Under Czech law, a landlord wishing to evict his/her tenants must provide them with alternative accommodation. Mr V.V.'s tenants claim that he has failed to find them new accommodation. In August 1999, Mr V.V. reportedly refused to renew their rental contract, which had expired. He reportedly had made threatening statements to the Roma living in the buildings in the past, but the Roma living on the farm did not take these seriously. On August 27, Mr V.V. apparently organised a group of approximately thirty skinheads to carry out his threat to remove his tenants. They conducted a vigilante raid on the farmhouses and their Romani inhabitants which lasted for approximately one hour and resulted in physical injury to Roma living there, as well as extensive property damage.
On August 31, two representatives from ARM visited the farm and interviewed victims and witnesses to the attack. Representatives of ARM conducted additional investigation on September 7 and October 16. Ms Helena Filipiová told ARM on August 31, that at around half past ten in the evening on August 27, she returned home with her family from a visit to relatives. She and her husband Antonin wanted to make themselves a cup of coffee. As soon as they closed their front door they heard screaming, the sound of breaking glass and gunfire coming from outside. Ms Filipiová told ARM, "We went outside the house, where we recognised the owner Mr V.V., who was shouting, ‘You black pigs, you niggers, come outside!' My neighbour Mr M.S.'s house was surrounded by skinheads who were throwing bricks and stones. They were firing guns and tear gas canisters and shouting: ‘Gypsies to the gas!', ‘Come out so we can kill you!'" Ms Filipiová stated that after Mr V.V. spotted her standing in between the house of Mr M.S. and the houses to the rear, he and the skinheads chased her towards her home. They allegedly threw bricks and stones and shouted racist epithets at her as she ran. She alerted her children and all of them ran into a nearby wood and hid. Ms Filipiová reportedly dislocated her ankle running from her attackers.
Mr M.S. told ARM that he and his wife hid in their house to evade the bullets and bricks, but a brick struck Mr M.S. on the back of the head; he later required stitches. Mr. M.S. told ARM that a bullet went through his window. He additionally stated that some of the attackers were wearing balaclavas and scarves to hide their faces. Mr M.S. told ARM that while he and his wife were barricaded in their own house, he heard glass smashing and other sounds of destruction. They later found their car vandalised and turned over, and the fence around their home torn down.
The attack reportedly lasted for approximately one hour. Some of the Roma hid in the woods, while two others managed to drive away in their car. They told the ARM that they drove to the nearest telephone box, four kilometres away, to call the police. Romani witnesses to the attack stated that police officer J.M. arrived after the attack ended. He did not, however, initiate an investigation, but merely inquired as to whether there had been any fatalities and left immediately after learning that there had been none. In response to Ms Filipiová, who told Officer J.M. that she was afraid that the attackers would return, the officer reportedly stated, "you watch too much TV, this is not a film." After Officer J.M. left, Roma from Dvorek reportedly called the state police department in Třebič three times. Police officers from Třebič arrived, some time during the late evening. Witnesses Mr P.T. and Mr M.S. told the ARM that state police officers took photographs of the scene of the attack and then left. On the following day they returned and videotaped the scene. According to Dvorek Roma, officers found bullets and spent cartridges and made a list of the damage. Roma told the ARM that although officers questioned them, they did not write down their testimony. Officer J.M. reportedly threatened local Roma three days later for complaining to the media about his conduct on the night of the attack.
According to reports in the local daily Horacké Noviny on September 3, a Třebič state police spokesperson Pavel Zahradníček categorised the incident as an "attack on property, not an attack on people." Officer Zahradníček further stated that, "the injuries sustained by the people were not a direct result of the attack." Moreover, according to the police, Mr V.V. was present during the attack, but he did not take an active part in it. As a result of police investigations, twelve suspects were detained and charged with rioting, damaging property and violence against individual and a group of inhabitants. Police did not apply available racially motivated crimes provisions of the Czech penal code. The suspects have reportedly admitted carrying out the attack. The twelve indicted men, all of whom are from the area, were all released on bail shortly after being charged.
Following the arrests, the municipality of Jaroměřice nad Rokytnou ordered Mr V.V. to replace Mr M.S.'s broken windows as Mr M.S.'s home is municipal property. In the houses belonging to Mr V.V., as of October 16, nothing had been repaired. The Roma of Dvorek told ARM on September 7 that since the attack, Mr V.V. has come to the farm and threatened them. Several of the Dvorek families told ARM on September 7 and October 16 that they have not slept at home since the attack. The ARM has provided victims with legal counsel.