Sunday, September 25, 2011
Central Europe's Roma
BRATISLAVA AND PRAGUE:
Roma in the Czech provinces are the butt of racism-and respond violently
The gritty small towns of the Sluknov foothills in northern Bohemia are a long way from the baroque delights of Prague. A simmering social problem is now boiling over into violent clashes between Roma (gypsies) and locals.
The Czech president, Vaclav Klaus, in an interview with the newspaper Mlada fronta Dnes,
has urged the police to respond “mercilessly” to the escalation, which has included narrowly
foiled attempts to storm the squalid hostels in which many Roma families live.
Relations have been tense for years. Poverty, prejudice and crime fester among the 300,000-odd Roma in the Czech Republic.
Governments have dodged the problem. In the 1990s European Union pressure forced the town of Usti nad Labem to pull down a wall that it had built around a Roma ghetto.
Many observers complain
that large sums (including EU grants) budgeted for do-gooding are wasted on consultants or irrelevant projects.
The new element is Roma retaliation.
In August three Roma men used a machete to attack "whites" (as non-Roma are called in Czech) in a
gambling joint. Some 20 truncheon-wielding Roma youths beat up six young white men outside a
disco. A far right political party has fanned the flames. But the main fuel is local anger over
crime and migration. Property businesses have been moving Roma tenants into cheap local housing
in order to sell their renovated former houses in richer parts of the country. Some 2,360 such
displaced Roma have arrived in the town of Rumburk alone in the past 18 months. The rhetoric has become incendiary.
Foes of the Roma call them "unadaptables". Many want them confined in walled ghettos, a growing practice in Slovakia-where a far-right politician, Jan Slota, has said that the Roma should have a separate state (he didn't say where).
Harsh words are reminding some of Nazi persecution of Jews and Romaand of Czech wartime collaboration with it.
Although overtly neo-Nazi parties are illegal, even respectable Czech politicians flirt with
anti-Roma sentiment. A former deputy prime minister, Jiri Cunek, began his career in local
politics by moving Roma families from a town centre into shipping containers on its outskirts.
TOP 09, a junior partner in the Czech coalition, has boycotted cabinet sessions to demand the
firing of Ladislav Batora, an education-ministry adviser with lurid anti-Roma views. (He has now been moved to another post.)
Mr Batora is a protege of Mr Klaus, who likes to lambast political correctness and
has a penchant for hiring mavericks as aides. He publicly backed the deputy head of his office,
Petr Hajek, after he came under fire for denouncing participants in this summer's Gay
Pride march in Prague as "deviants" and for opposing the "media lynching" of skinheads who
had petrol-bombed a Roma home.
Some suspect that Mr Klaus may be planning to form a new nationalist, Eurosceptic party when he leaves the presidency in 2013.
He should have no problem winning support from disgruntled "white" Czechs.
Posted by Morgan at 4:42 PM