Roma barred from clubs and restaurants in the Czech Republic and Hungary
03 April 1999
On the evening of February 16, three Romani consultants to the European Roma Rights Center were refused service at the bar Klub Vegas on Nádražní street in the city of Ostrava, northeast Czech Republic.
At approximately 9:00 pm, two non-Romani members of the ERRC entered the pub. The waiter politely took their order. Approximately five minutes later, three Roma - Mr Marian Hamburg, Mrs Vlasta Holubová and Mr Ondra Holub - entered the bar. The entry of the three Roma into the club had the effect of ceasing all or most of the conversations of the evidently non-Romani clientele of the bar. Before the Roma had finished seating them-selves at the same table as the two non-Romani employees of the ERRC, the waiter approached and asked the two non-Roma if "they belong to you". When one of the non-Roma responded that he did not know the Roma, the waiter turned to Mr Hamburg, Mr Holub and Ms Holubová and said, "I'm sorry, as you know, I can't serve you". All five employees of the ERRC then left Klub Vegas.
The ERRC attempted to file a complaint first at a local city police department (Mĕstská Policie). Officers there refused the complaint and sent the group to a state police department in Silesian Ostrava. These also refused to accept the complaint and it was only approximately two hours later that Mr Hamburg succeeded in signing his name to a statement concerning the events of the evening at a second state police department in Moravian Ostrava.
At approximately 11:15 pm, Mr Marian Hamburg and Mr Claude Cahn, a non-Romani employee of the ERRC, returned by car with three police officers to Klub Vegas because the police officers had requested that the ERRC identify the waiter who had refused to serve the three Roma.
Shortly thereafter, a man who was evidently the owner of the bar arrived. Police officers informed him that his presence was unnecessary and that they had reached an informal agreement with the waiter to come the next morning to the police station for questioning. In the presence of the ERRC, the man responded that the waiter's testimony was unnecessary because, "He had only been fulfilling my orders". He went on to state that the bar was private and that the waiter served only club members. The ERRC requested that the police officers conduct a check to see if persons in the club were in possession of membership cards. The police refused.
Four representatives of the ERRC lodged complaints against Klub Vegas in the early hours of February 17. At police instructions, Ms Samantha Chaitkin, the other non-Romani consultant of the ERRC, returned at 10:00 am on February 17 in order to lodge a complaint and was kept waiting for four hours before a translator arrived. The ERRC is providing legal representation to the Romani victims. In December 1998, the ERRC filed a similar complaint against the Hotel Imperial in Ostrava, when two ERRC employees were refused service there.
Observers have noted that throughout the region, signs banning Roma from entry into pubs and restaurants, common in the early 1990s, have largely disappeared. In their place, club owners and employees often refuse entry to Roma on the grounds that the club is private and entry possible only with a membership card. Elsewhere, Roma are kept waiting for hours for service at restaurants or else are simply barred entry to clubs. Romani Member of the Czech Parliament Monika Horáková was allegedly refused entry into a club in the south-eastern Czech city of Brno on October 17, 1998 (See "Snapshots from around Europe", Roma Rights, Autumn 1998). On November 25, 1998, police investigators told the ERRC that they had decided not to bring charges in connection with the barring of Ms Horáková. On December 11, 1998, Ms Horáková's attorney Mr Rozehnal appealed the decision and on January 12, 1999, a state prosecutor in Brno rejected the appeal. According to Mr Rozehnal, there is no further possibility for domestic appeal.
The racist refusal to serve Roma is not specific to the Czech Republic. One film made with a concealed camera by the Gyenes Production Company and recently shown on the private Hungarian television station TV2 showed Roma being refused entry on evidently racist grounds to six different night-clubs around Budapest at the beginning of December 1998.