Thursday, July 5, 2012


Region: Shootings bare racist sentiments

Policeman's fatal attack on Roma home glorified by the public



PHOTO : On June 16, an off-duty policeman opened fire on this house in Hurbanovo, Slovakia, killing three members of a Roma family.

Milan Juhász, a 51-year-old policeman, did not go to work Saturday, June 16. Instead, he took an illegally held gun and headed to Komárňanská street in Hurbanovo, a small town in southern Slovakia.

He stopped in front of the house of a Roma family and proceeded to shoot dead a 44-year-old man, his 19-year-old son and 24-year-old son-in-law, as well as shooting in the chest the 44-year-old victim's second son and wounding the son's wife. The police detained Juhász, who by then was threatening to commit suicide, shortly after the killings.

Human rights activists say the event could exacerbate tensions between the Roma minority and the non-Roma majority in Slovakia.

"Not just the shooting itself, but all the factors that accompany this case could impact [relations]," Irena Bihariová, the head of human rights watchdog People Against Racism, told The Slovak Spectator.

"I am referring to the responses of the public, when [online] public discussions turned into mass glorifications of the murderer and hateful responses toward the victims, and the overall tone of the public discourse, which styles the offender as a hero and the victims as the guilty [parties]."

Laco Oravec, a program director from the Milan Šimečka Foundation, agreed the case had unleashed negative emotions and tended to reinforce some popular myths.

"Every such tense situation or conflict elevates sentiments and emotions, as though bringing out all the context from the mental memory of the society," Oravec said. "It is not about particular cases but rather society being guided by such images that then define relations between Roma and non-Roma."

The Office of the Special Prosecutor has charged Juhász with premeditated murder, home intrusion and carrying a concealed weapon, police spokesman Michal Slivka told the TASR newswire June 18. If found guilty, Juhász could face 25 years' to life imprisonment, Slivka added.

A momentary lapse of reason fueled by professional frustration may have prompted Juhász to kill, the Sme daily speculated, citing sources close to the investigation. The police are reportedly working on the theory Juhász was unable to handle problems related to a group of citizens in the small town where he worked as a municipal policeman, and thus took matters into his own hands.

This version is, according to Sme, supported by the sole explanation the murderer offered when brought before a judge: "I woke up in the morning with the thought that I have to restore order."
Police investigators initially claimed the shooting probably lacked a racial motive. In such a case, the man would have killed even more people, they argued.

Juhász reportedly knew the residents of Komárňanská street, where two Roma families live in neighboring houses. Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák said the man had visited the houses as part of his police duties. Four of the five victims of the shooting had criminal records, according to Kaliňák.
Several media outlets decided to disable and delete online public comments under their stories about the Hurbanovo shooting after readers posted a large number of offensive comments about the victims.

Bihariová suggested one reason behind such attitudes among the public is the unresolved situation of socially excluded communities and said the tragedy should push the government to make the issue a top priority.

"People are frustrated, so they go to vent to places where they can hide behind their anonymity," Bihariová said. "They are not aware that if this is how they formulate the 'public demand,' the politicians will cheer them on in a populist manner and real solutions will be set aside."

Deep-rooted bias

Although public discourse following the event was rife with extremist sentiments and racist commentary, including calls for mass Roma deportation and extermination, it has also been a rallying call for Roma rights supporters.

A group of intellectuals - Klára Orgovánová from the Roma Institute, Jarmila Lajčáková from the Center for the Research of Ethnicity and Culture and František Kutlík from the Slovak Institute for Mediation - sent an open letter addressed to President Ivan Gašparovič, Prime Minister Robert Fico, Parliament and other state authorities in which they ask that the shooting be fully and properly investigated. They also called for a stop to repressive, anti-Roma measures and proactive legislative measures to eliminate growing intolerance toward Roma residents in Slovakia.

"Surveys have been warning against deep-rooted prejudices and hate toward members of the Roma minority for a long time," the letter states,

The intellectuals also cite a 2010 survey that indicates up to two-thirds of respondents openly supported discriminatory actions against Roma citizens.

Oravec noted this was not the first appeal to be addressed to the government, but expressed doubt regarding the effectiveness of such calls.

"The minority voice, which calls for a different quality of relations, reflection and change to these inter-ethnic relations, is really almost … unheard," he said, adding the government, too, often ignored this voice.

According to Bihariová, it is symptomatic no politician or public authority rejected this tone of discourse or expressed at least elementary solidarity with the victims.

"These are issues the Roma are aware of, and neither the shooting nor these attitudes of the public help mutual relations," she said.

Several media outlets have compared the Hurbanovo shooting with the shooting spree in Devínska Nová Ves in August 2010, in which a Slovak man killed several members of one Roma family, injured several other people in the street and later committed suicide.

Bihariová sees one similarity in the cases. "In both, the media, but also the wider public, sought evidence to ease the gravity of the offenders' act and elevate him to the position of a martyr," she said. "At the same time, evidence was sought regarding the victims' 'problematic nature.' "

- Radka Minarechová contributed to this report.
Beata Balogová can be reached at

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