Racially motivated violence on the rise in the Czech Republic
05 January 1999
The house of the Koky family, Roma from the small Czech village of Nezamyslice, near Prostéjov, was for the second time sprayed with racist graffiti, reported the daily Mladá Fronta Dnes on January 7, 1999. The same family had had stones thrown through their windows and had received a threatening letter. In November the Prague-based Documentation Center for Human Rights released a report on 242 racially or ideologically motivated crimes committed in the first ten months of 1998, of which 107 were directed against Roma.
On November 14 a group of skinheads attacked Mr Banda, a 63-year-old deaf and mute Rom, in the town of Havlíčkuv Brod. Allegedly in response to having been attacked by several Roma two weeks earlier, they beat Mr Banda, kicked him, and threw him through the door of the railway station, as a consequence of which he suffered cuts and gashes. Only after the local media publicised the news did the police decide to investigate the crime. Six of the skinheads were charged with a racially motivated attack on December 28, and the case will come before a court in January. Mr Bob Joyce, an American teacher working and living in the town of Hodonín, was knocked down, beaten and kicked after he defended a group of Roma verbally attacked by a soldier on November 21. The soldier was charged with hooliganism and assault, the local police announced three weeks later, according to the Associated Press. On November 27, a 17-year-old skinhead got into a tram in Brno and took a seat behind two Romani women. At some point he took his lighter out and set fire to the long hair of one of the women. The victim did not notice the fire in time, but the tram driver was told about the attack - he blocked the doors, extinguished the fire and called the police. The skinhead had already been prosecuted for rioting and is now on probation. Nevertheless, the local police told the ERRC that in their view the woman was not seriously harmed as her hair was "only scorched", and that they had no evidence on the basis of which to consider this a racially motivated crime.
On the other hand, after a five-year delay, the October 8 decision of Judge Jiří Bernát ended the retrial of the three skinheads responsible for the death of a teenage Romani Tibor Danihel, who drowned in the river Otava in Písek (see Roma Rights Spring 1997 and Summer 1998). The defendants were held responsible for a racially motivated murder, and they received sentences of 8.5, 7.5 and 7 years respectively. (For other Czech judicial developments, see "Race discrimination litigation in Europe: problems and prospects" by James A. Goldston in this issue.)
The Czech government has expressed its concern over cases of racial hatred in a number of statements. Radio Prague announced on December 7 that President Václav Havel and Prime Minister Milos Zeman had a meeting to discuss racism and xenophobia, after which they warned of the growning apathy to racist violence in the Czech Republic. The governmental body set up in order to improve Czech-Romani relations, the Interministerial Commission for Issues of the Romani Community, now includes twelve Romani activists, appointed as new members on December 28, as reported by the Czech news agency ČTK. Three days later, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs announced the publishing a 500-page analysis of the problems of co-existence between the Romani minority and the majority, which will, in the opinion of the Ministry, provide a foundation for a rational discussion on state policy in this area. On January 6, 1999, the General Prosecutor of the Czech Republic, Mr Vít Veselý, was replaced by the Kladno lawyer Ms Marie Benešová. Reportedly the change was prompted by Veselý's inadequacy in fighting racist skinhead violence. (Associated Press, ČTK, ERRC, Mladá Fronta Dnes, Radio Prague)