Thursday, May 31, 2012


Boy admits Roma attack lie

Břeclav assault by Roma that angered city never happened


By Klára Jiřičná - Staff Writer

PHOTO    Zhyvachivski, 15, fell in an accident but said Roma attacked him. CTK Photo
An assault on a 15-year-old that stoked racial tensions and brought thousands to the streets of Břeclav, south Moravia, in April never happened, with the boy now admitting he concocted a story alleging he had been severely beaten by a group of Roma men.
As Petr Zhyvachivski faced a lie-detector test, he admitted the story was invented out of fear he would face discipline from his mother after he fell one story while playing on a handrail in a stairway. Zhyvachivski's resulting injuries placed him in intensive care and forced him to have a kidney removed.

While the tale is likely to spark a few smiles about youthful indiscretions, Břeclav's Roma community isn't laughing and neither are human rights activists, who say the public is too quick to blame minority groups for unsolved crimes. Roma leaders were calling for a public apology and possible legal action.

More than 2,000 people took to the Břeclav streets in late April to demonstrate against the fictitious attack, including members of the far-right Workers Party for Social Justice.
Oksana Zhyvachivska, Petr's mother, issued an apology on Czech Television May 24, saying it was a "terrible experience to learn the truth."

"I don't know whether to be happy that my son survived or whether to be angry that he not only deceived me, but the whole country," she said. "I would like to apologize to the Roma minority and all of the people in Břeclav and say that I only acted as a mother and meant no harm. I know my words raised a lot of hell, and I am sorry for what they caused."

Meanwhile, the Nationwide Association of Roma (CAR) sent officials to Břeclav to plan future steps, including criminal complaints that cite arousing racial hatred. The group later backtracked on those threats following Zhyvachivska's apology.

"We feel damaged as a minority," said Stanislav Daniel, a CAR vice chairman. "People quickly drew conclusions about us based on this case. It seems to be a trend to blame the Roma for everything. But this is something society cannot afford to do."

Anna Šabatová, chairwoman of the Czech Helsinki Committee, an NGO protecting equal rights, said politicians and media failed to directly face the hateful response that kept the police busy for weeks as local Roma were systematically interrogated.

"Politicians participated by automatically sympathizing with the mother of the boy, and talked about Roma assaults," she said. "Even if this [attack] had happened, you cannot automatically blame the whole community for the actions of an individual."

The Council for Radio and Television Broadcasting has launched a project to monitor news reporting of criminal action related to the Roma minority on private broadcaster TV Nova during the first five months of 2012, with a focus on the Břeclav case. The investigation is based on suspicion of using stereotypes and prejudices when reporting on ethnic, religious or racial minorities. The results are expected in August.

CAR has sent a letter to Prime Minister Petr Nečas demanding the renewal of a Cabinet-level position related to minorities and human rights. Nečas abolished the post in September 2010 and downgraded the office to that of a commissioner rather than a minister.

In the letter, CAR also inquires why leading politicians have failed to comment on the Břeclav case, citing a dangerous atmosphere in the country and growing anti-Roma sentiment.

Břeclav Mayor Oldřich Ryšavý said he is pleased the situation now appears settled and that the unfounded allegations about Roma attackers proved false. He has backed efforts by Roma leaders to create a new community group designed to work with city leaders on minority issues.

The investigation of the fabricated assault has been closed by the south Moravian police as a Břeclav prosecutor now looks into whether Petr Zhyvachivski could face criminal charges for fabricating his story.

Roma leaders said they are awaiting a decision from prosecutors but add that they are not pushing for charges against the boy.
Klára Jiřičná can be reached at

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