Gang of skinheads attacks Roma in southern Czech Republic
12 April 2000
Czech and international media reported that a large group of skinheads had attacked a group of Roma celebrating in the restaurant U Modré hvězdy in the southern Czech town of České Budějovice on the night of November 20, 1999. According to a report on the private channel TV Nova, a gang of approximately thirty skinheads burst into the restaurant shortly before midnight, shouting racist slogans and attacking the customers with clubs, chains and broken bottles. A number of people, including a pregnant woman, were injured. Those present at the restaurant criticised the police for responding slowly to the attack. According to a report of November 22 on Radio Prague, police stated that two skinheads had been charged with hooliganism and criminal damage. A spokesperson for the police stated that police were investigating whether the attack was racially motivated.
ERRC consultants went to the field on November 23 to investigate the attack. Witnesses told the ERRC that at least one shot had been fired during the attack, resulting in the smashing of the front window of the restaurant. Mr Miroslav Vaněk, an employee of the restaurant, told the ERRC that he had given police officers a projectile on the night of the attack which, he stated, had shattered the window. Witnesses stated that between fifty and seventy skinheads had taken part in the attack, and that roughly forty Roma had gathered in the restaurant at the time of the attack. Several witnesses reported that skinheads had shouted, “Sieg Heil” and anti-Romani epithets. Witness Gejza L. told the ERRC: “I tried to hold the glass door so the skinheads would not get into the restaurant and start a fight, but all of a sudden I heard the shot and felt a bullet flying near my ear. Then I ran into the back to the others. The skinheads rushed into the restaurant, threw bottles and glasses at all of us.” Witness Emil S. told the ERRC that the first patrol arrived fifteen minutes after the police had been called. Other witnesses stated that it took police up to twenty-five minutes to arrive on the scene. The skinheads were reportedly celebrating the birthday of former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco.
Director of the District Police Stanislav Svoboda told the ERRC on November 23 that the police had been informed about a planned meeting of skinheads in a pub of the village Haklové Dvory close to České Budějovice. He additionally said that the owner of the pub cancelled the order for the meeting and closed his pub, so the police did not register any planned meeting of skinheads and did not know that they were in town. Officer Svoboda described the event as a “mass fight” and he did not exclude the possibility that Roma would also be charged with crimes. He stated that police action had been adequate, quick and without mistakes. He denied that the police were in possession of a bullet taken from the scene of the crime.
In an article published November 23, 1999, the Czech daily Pravo quoted Mr Miroslav Tetter, the mayor of České Budějovice appreciating “the fast action of the police”. He was quoted as stating that four patrol cars had arrived on the scene three minutes after the pub owner called the police. The daily quoted Officer Svoboda as stating that at the time of the culmination of the fight, fourteen police officers had been at the scene of the crime. “That was the whole force we had at that time for the whole town. A reserve unit arrived at 00:14 AM.” He reportedly explained the lax action of the policemen in the following terms: “There were very young policemen involved, officers who have served on the force for a very short time. For many of them such a deployment was their first one. We had a policewoman there as well, which certainly had some influence.”
On November 24, the director of the District Investigation Office and the main investigator of the case Officer Petr Sýkora told the ERRC that as of that date, seventeen skinheads had been charged with the crimes of rioting (Criminal Code Article 202(1)), damage to property (257(1)), and association to commit racially motivated violence (196 (2 and 3)). He stated that he had requested that all be taken into custody and that as of that date, two of the skinheads had been detained. He told the ERRC that twenty-five skinheads would be prosecuted in connection with the attack. The Czech daily Mladá Fronta Dnes reported on November 24 that Regional State Attorney Petr Dušek had stated, “We are investigating an organised action. The situation in town is severe. The incident has shocked Europe. Foreign journalists are calling us.” Czech media reported on November 24 that some of the victims had subsequently purchased arms. On November 25, the Czech daily Lidové Noviny reported that approximately forty-five Roma from České Budějovice had emigrated from the Czech Republic in the wake of the attack, and that many others intended to follow.
On November 27, the daily Mladá Fronta Dnes reported that České Budějovice Police Deputy Director Josef Kuchař had stated at a press conference that police had obtained information about the planned skinhead gathering on the day of the attack and had been “following the situation.” “Unfortunately,” he stated, “we lost the skinheads in town.” On November 29, Director of České Budějovice District Police Stanislav Svoboda told the ERRC: “Police are also investigating the approach of the police and whether we have made mistakes.”
Mladá Fronta Dnes reported on December 11 that police had charged twenty-four skinheads in connection with the attack as of that date. The Regional State Attorney Mr Dušek told the ERRC that two of the skinheads were in custody. Romani Advisor of the District Government Office Mr Roman Slivka told the ERRC on the same day that Mr Emil Daňo, one of the main witnesses, had repeatedly received threatening calls following the attack.
On January 11, 2000, two ballistics experts hired by the Czech non-governmental organisation HOST presented the ERRC with expert opinion stating that the holes in the entrance door of the restaurant had been caused by a bullet from a 9-mm-pistol, shot from outside into the bar. České Budějovice police investigators reportedly have their own expert opinion dated November 26, 1999, which states that the holes in the glass originate from ashtrays thrown from inside the bar. České Budějovice police investigators told the ERRC on January 31, 2000, that as of that date, police believed that someone had shot from inside the bar into the doorway. Ms Danuše Šarvášová, the proprietor of the restaurant, reportedly told Mladá Fronta Dnes that she would close the restaurant and leave town; “I will never get back the money I invested in the restaurant,” she told the paper.
Independent activist Jakub Polák discovered on February 15, 2000, that at least one of the skinheads involved in the November 19 attack had been among those originally charged in connection with the 1993 killing of a Romani youth named Tibor Danihel in the nearby town of Písek (see, most recently, “Snapshots from around Europe”, Roma Rights 2/99). The daily Mladá Fronta Dnes reported on February 15, 2000, that charged skinhead M.B. (b. 1980) had been among those originally charged in connection with the Tibor Danihel killing. On March 15, 2000, Mlada Fronta Dnes reported that police investigators had closed investigation and recommended that the charges of rioting, damage to property, and association to commit racially motivated violence be brought against twenty-four individuals. The Ministry of the Interior informed independent activist Jakub Polák in February 2000 that according to their information, police were innocent of misconduct in connection with the case.
In an apparently unrelated incident, the Czech Press Agency reported on November 22, 1999, that three young men had verbally and physically abused an 18-year-old Romani youth named T.B. in a youth home in the western Czech city of Plzeň. Plzeň police spokesperson Petr Kovář reportedly stated on November 19 that the three men, aged 19 to 21, had been accused of defamation of race under Criminal Code Article 198. He was quoted as stating, “In January 1999, the students abused the Rom on grounds of his Romani origin. Four months later the situation occurred again and the three additionally attacked the Rom while he was having a shower. Kicking the Rom’s belly and punching him in the shoulder, they knocked him down.” As the spokesman of the police told the agency, the attackers were later talking about the attack and committing defamation. No charges were brought in connection with the physical attack.
(ERRC, Lidové Novini, Mladá Fronta Dnes, Radio Prague, TV Nova)