PRAGUE/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)– A tense calm has returned to the Czech Republic where officials say some 100 far-rights activists have been detained in violent demonstrations against gypsies, also known as Roma.
Officials said arrests were made in at least eight cities, including in northeastern Ostrava, which resembled a warzone Saturday. Riot police used teargas to prevent hundreds of far right activists from entering a district mainly inhabited by Roma.
There were violent clashes between stone-throwing protesters and police in what rights activists viewed as a show of hatred towards the already discriminated and largely impoverished Roma minority.
At least 60 demonstrators were detained in Ostrava alone. More arrests took place during smaller anti-Roma marches held in other cities and towns across the Czech Republic.
Advocacy group Amnesty International had urged the Czech government to “ensure that these protests do not lead to violence against Roma communities, and that those at risk get the protection they need”. Rights activists held counter demonstrations in several cities, including in the capital Prague and in the city of Plzen.
“LIST OF LIES”
Government officials said the anti-Roma protests were fueled by what they called “a list of lies” distributed through the Internet. It alleges that Roma can easily receive a one-off payment of 230,000 crowns (almost $12,000), besides monthly payments for rent from municipalities, and that cities pay for school supplies.
The list prompted the country’s Employment Office spokesperson Kateřina Beránková to deny the charges on Czech Radio. “No payments are made in cash or by cheque on the spot or in advance,” she said.
“The whole document is really just a bunch of nonsense and lies.”
Experts have linked the growing public anger towards the country’s 300,000 Roma also to economic and political uncertainty ahead of upcoming early elections in October.
“The people are frustrated with politics and with the economy and this is something they want to express,” explained Czech Sociologist Jiřina Šiklová. “But I think much of it will return to normal, for example, after the upcoming election.”
Similar anti-Roma demonstrations were earlier held in neighboring Slovakia, where walls were erected in several towns between Roma and other residents.
Last week European Commissioner for Education and Culture Androulla Vassiliou condemned authorities in the eastern Slovak city of Kosice for constructing a wall to segregate the local Roma community. Kosice is this year’s European Capital of Culture together with the French city of Marseille.
Elsewhere, in Hungary, far-right paramilitary groups have been marching through Roma villages and this month four Hungarian men were found guilty and sentenced to long prison terms for killing six Roma, including a five-year-old child.
The European Union has urged the former Communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe to do more to integrate their Roma minorities.
(BosNewsLife’s NEWS WATCH is a regular look at key general news developments from especially, but not limited to, (former) Communist countries and other autocratic states impacting the Church and/or other compassionate professionals).
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