Friday, August 19, 2011




Czech Republic: Victimized Romani family still living in fear

The small village of Krty near Jesenice (Rakovník district) is pretty and neat. You can tell the locals and their political representatives take care of the environment in which they live. The town hall is open until 6:30 PM, since the mayor works at another job during the day. The pub next door doesn't open on weekdays until 5 PM, with the exception of Fridays. A pretty little chapel stands across the street from the town hall.

Until 10 August, when a Molotov cocktail attack was committed against one of the local Romani families, this little village was unknown to the media. The attack was the third on a Romani family in the country in the past month, two of which used arson. The Molotov cocktail landed on a cot in the bedroom where the family's daughter, aged one year and six months, normally sleeps. On the night in question, she was fortunately sleeping with her parents in the adjoining bed. A total of 12 people, including children and a pregnant woman, were in the house at the time.

Local people, led by the mayor, have condemned the attack and are asking who is behind it. Was it a local person? Someone from a neighboring village or from Jesenice? Are extremist groups coming all the way to Rakovník district now?

"Naturally we can't know who did this, but I firmly believe police will investigate. We are all like family here, so I would rule out anyone local having done this.

The family who were attacked have lived here 20 years and there has never been any conflict with them," said Vice-Mayor Jan Brda.

"Hello - could you please tell us where the people live who recently got that bottle thrown through their window?“ we ask an older man, who willingly shows us how to get there. The single-family home was built on railway property just a few meters away from the tracks as part of Krty's train station.

"The problem may be," says the father of the victimized family, "that at the time the perpetrators attacked there was a fair taking place in the next village. Many outsiders rode through here that day on the train to go to the fair, and any of them could have seen our children playing in the garden and realized Romani people live here. Maybe one of them tracked us down. The bottle couldn't have been thrown from a train though, because the last train runs at 11:30 PM and the attack happened at 1 AM."

The father went on to say that almost anyone could have committed the attack. "The investigators haven't told us anything, they came on the day it happened and returned shortly afterward, maybe twice. They haven't been here since. At least uniformed police officers have been on patrol here ever since, they drive or walk by several times a day, including during the evening. They had no reason to come here before the attack."

Street lights are once again staying on all night in the vicinity of the single-family home, which was previously not the case. In order to save money, the lights had been turned off between 1 and 4 AM.

The father of the family is still walking with an enormous limp and using crutches. A bandage extends from the sole of his right foot up to the ankle. All of his toes and his entire instep were singed as a result of the Molotov cocktail being thrown into the bedroom and his putting out the fire.

Physical injuries are far from the only result of the attack, however. The family has mainly been affected psychologically. All of its members are now living in great fear and sleeping poorly. "The little one keeps waking up and crying, she saw the flames from up close and our response while we were putting the fire out definitely scared her," says the grandmother of the little girl.

When we ask a young woman in the advanced stages of pregnancy whether her child will be a boy or a girl, she tells us it will be a boy. She was not sleeping in the bedroom where the Molotov cocktail landed, but is understandably also afraid. "During the day I saw a man standing near our fence. When I went outside, he turned around and quickly disappeared. We have no idea who did this. We're afraid it might happen again, so we're taking turns standing guard at night. I'm sleeping poorly. I go to bed at 9 but I wake up again after three hours and can't get back to sleep," the expectant mother said.

Even though the single-family home belongs to Czech Railways, the village has showed its goodwill by paying for new window panes and securing the windows with protective sheeting. "We want them to feel safer," Mayor Rambousek said.

Until the new panes are ready, the family has taken provisional measures, placing a blanket beneath the window. Should someone decide to repeat the attack, they will be able to respond quickly and put the fire out with it.

Police are investigating the case as attempted grievous bodily harm for now. If convicted, the perpetrator would face between five and 12 years in prison. "We are working intensively on the case. We have not arrested anyone yet," said Soňa Budská, spokesperson for the Central Bohemian Police, without giving further details.

The family does not want to move. "Where would we go?" asks another resident of the home, a younger man. "My girlfriend and I left town once, but after a while we returned. It's not better anywhere else - rather the opposite.“

We take leave of the family, who warmly wish us well. Džesina, their young German shepherd, makes the most noise when we go, her barking accompanying us as we head for the square.
František Kostlán, Jitka Votavová, translated by Gwendolyn Albert ROMEA

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