Neo-Nazis mobilise against minorities in Czech republic
Ultra-right parties and their neo-Nazi supporters have unleashed an unprecedented level of coordinated anti-Roma demonstrations throughout the Czech Republic this year, aiming to tip the balance at the polls and increase their access to power in the country’s upcoming elections.
The Czech Republic faces a series of four nationwide elections between now and the end of next year – to the lower house, one-third of the Senate, the European Parliament and local governments. The country faces a threat similar to the one in Greece and Hungary that has already cost the lives of their citizens.
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There have been 30 anti-Roma marches organized since the beginning of the year and at least 10 more are planned. The Romani minority is the target of these hateful attacks because of deeply entrenched anti-Romani sentiment in Czech society that is easily mobilized.
In recent years, ultra-right actions there are no longer confined to extremists, but have been joined by ordinary citizens of all ages and both genders. Even the Czech Intelligence Service (BIS) has pointed out the danger of this widespread anti-Roma atmosphere. This year, it is only thanks to the so-far successful performance of law enforcement that the violence has not cost lives, although it has resulted in at least a dozen police sustaining injuries, as well as damage to property.
The police have so far managed to control these rallies and prevent violence, but this has been done by restricting the freedoms of those opposing the anti-Roma gatherings.
“Gypsies to the gas chambers”
On 27 September the country’s third-largest city, Ostrava faced its second major riot and attempted pogrom on Romani neighbourhoods this year. A handful of nonviolent counter-protesters were not given any support by local authorities, who instead dispersed their legal assembly on the grounds that it was they, not the neo-Nazis, who were disturbing the peace. A neo-Nazi mob then engaged police in street fighting long into the night. While physical injury has not yet been perpetrated against anyone Romani during these demonstrations, the psychological war against them is currently being won by the ultra-right in Ostrava.
The anti-Romani rallies this year have been organized by members of the Workers’ Social Justice Party (in Czech “DSSS”) and a breakaway faction called the “Czech Lions.” (Their political platforms are explicitly racist include and place a heavy emphasis on repressing what they call “inadaptables”, which everyone understands as a code word for Roma.; during their rallies and especially the mob violence that follows them, the pretense of coded language is dropped and it is normal to hear them calling to send “gypsies to the gas chambers”.
The predecessor to the DSSS, the Workers’ Party was dissolved by the courts in 2010 because its neo-Nazi ideology contravened Czech law. Unfortunately, this did not prevent the party from simply regrouping under a new name.
When ordinary people join the neo-Nazis in not only shouting such messages but throwing rocks at police, this emboldens more mainstream politicians to show their constituents that they too are “tough on Roma.”
In places where these anti-Romani demonstrations have occurred, local governments have enacted “zero tolerance” policies, ordinances restricting personal liberty that apply only to Roma neighborhoods and a ban on behavior perceived as “Roma”, such as sitting outdoors in public. Municipal social workers and police have conducted disruptive (probably illegal) visits to Roma households and involved local journalists who have published video footage of these “raids” online.
International network of hate groups
The rise of anti-Roma extremists in the Czech Republic is not merely a national phenomenon; it is fueled by an international network of hate groups.
A few days after the 27 September demonstrations, human rights defenders across the Czech Republic were hacked by a white power group whose website is registered in California that posted racist content to websites, generated racist emails from address books, and published the correspondence of the email accounts that were hacked online.
Polish, German and Slovak ultra-right supporters have also been coming to the Czech Republic to participate in these marches. These cross-border alliances should be of particular concern to all of Europe and require a concerted European response: EU recognition of anti-Gypsyism as a particular phenomenon that must be combated in all member states; EU monitoring and condemnation of hate crimes and hate speech directed against Roma; and strong enforcement of existing legal tools, such as the Race Equality Directive and the Convention on Cybercrime.
The next neo-Nazi demonstration in Ostrava and other Czech cities will be held on 28 October, a day which celebrates the founding of independent Czechoslovakia and which has long been a traditional time for nationalists and the ultra-right to call for a country free of all non-Czechs.
It is imperative that law enforcement nip any potential for violence in the bud and keep those assembling as far away from the targets of their wrath as possible. However, this should not be done by restricting or prematurely dissolving the peaceful protest gatherings of Roma and non-Roma who decide to publicly to denounce these neo-Nazi marches.
If any of the political parties affiliated with the promoters of hatred and genocide were to win even 1.5 % of the vote, in the Czech political system they would be entitled to taxpayer money. An infusion of resources into this movement is the last the thing Czech Republic needs.
The government must do everything it can to address the psychological warfare being waged by the ultra-right at the expense of the members of Europe’s largest, and most ill-treated, minority.
Dezideru Gergely is Executive Director at the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) and Gwen Albert is an independent Human Rights Activist and Researcher