Pressure to ban Czech far-right group after rioting

by Michael Smith

The Czech government has come under pressure to ban extremist groups after more than 500 supporters of the far-right Workers’ Party fought running battles with police who blocked their attempt to march through an area populated predominately by Romanies.

At least 14 people were injured and 15 arrested when police confronted about 700 marchers in the northern Czech town of Litvinov on Monday, a public holiday marking both the 1939 Nazi clampdown on Czechoslovak universities and the 1989 student protest that sparked the Velvet Revolution, which ended decades of communist rule in the central European country.

About 1,000 police using tear gas and water cannon, and supported by armoured vehicles and a helicopter, clashed with Workers’ Party supporters wielding bricks, sticks and petrol bombs when they tried to enter a large Gypsy neighbourhood.

“The police tried to get the demonstrators back to the planned march route but they started throwing flaming bottles,” said police spokeswoman Jarmila Hrubesova.

Fighting spread through the back streets of Litvinov as police pursued small groups of far-right marchers and prevented them coming into contact with about 300 Roma men who had gathered to defend their part of town.

“We discovered weapons – sticks, guns, pitchforks, machetes and other things – in the cars of extremists and also Roma people,” said police spokesman Vladimir Danyluk, after what was the second confrontation in a month between right-wing demonstrators and police in the town.

Obviously, they had to mention that they found also weapons with the Romanies; maybe they can now claim that it is really the Gypsies that are at fault here and not the Fascists. It certainly would not surprise me.

A number of leading Czech newspapers called for a crackdown on far-right groups, criticised local authorities for authorising such rallies, and urged police to stop supporters of the Workers’ Party gathering in large groups. Under pressure from human rights groups, interior minister Ivan Langer has discussed banning the party.

This idea has, in the meantime, been forgotten again, however, and the ministers have claimed that in the interest of freedom of speech and freedom of expression a ban would be counterproductive.

Roma communities are a common target for far-right groups across eastern Europe and the Balkans, where they endure very poor levels of employment, housing, education and healthcare and are widely seen as a major source of crime. In Hungary in early November 2008, two Gypsies were shot dead and their home burned down in a what can only be described as a racist murder.

Now, in the last days of November 2008, a Romani couple was murdered by a hand grenade having been thrown into their modest home while they were sitting watching TV. The children, who were already in bed were unhurt.

But when Gypsies then flee to other countries asking for political asylum they are claimed to be economic migrants and not real refugees.

In Hungary, as well as in the former Czechoslovakia and even in Italy, police have been known to stand idly by while extremists have attacked Gypsy men, women and children. So, what are the Romanies to do?

© M Smith (Veshengro), November 2008