Saturday, May 15, 2010

Skinheads Go On Trial In Czech Republic For Roma Arson Attack

With armed riot police guarding and the local media watching, a trial of four skinheads has opened in the northeastern Czech city of Ostrava.  The four are charged with an arson attack on a Roma home in the nearby village of Vitkov.  A two-year-old girl, Natalka, was seriously injured in the attack, suffering burns over much of her body.  Natalka became a household name in the Czech Republic, where even the most hardened Gypsy hater had to be repelled by images of a seriously burned child. 

According to prosecutors, the four tossed three Molotov cocktails into the house to 'honor' Adolf Hitler. 

The attack took place on April 20, 2009, the 120th anniversary of the birth of the German madman. 

The Czech Republic, like other eastern European states accused of treating their Roma minority less than far, is treating this case with all seriousness.

The four are accused of a 'racially motivated' attack and could be sent to prison for life if found guilty.

The trial opened Thursday under heavy guard, apparently out of fear skinhead sympathizers would cause trouble at the court in Ostrava. 

Inside, the four defendants have been mum or pointing fingers at the others as the initiator of the attack. 

The Vitkov attack is not unique to the Czech Republic, or for that matter, the parts of Europe where Roma live, mostly in eastern Europe, and mostly under dire conditions, without running water, electricity and jobs.

Just a month after the arson attack in Vitkov, Molotov cocktails were hurled into another Roma home in Zdiby outside the capital, Prague. 

No one was ever implicated in that arson attack, and police eventually forgot about it, much to the disgust of Roma activists. 

In August, another Roma home burned in the Czech Republic.  Again no one was punished.  Again, Czech police ended their investigation inconclusively. 

In September, another Roma house was attack in Mikulov in the east.  Police did act.  They pointed out there was no Molotov cocktail thrown, but something more innocuous.  Locals spoke of 'youths' yelling racist chants as they carried out their deed. 

Again no charges were filed.

In one of the more chilling attacks, neo-Nazis marched on Roma tenements in Litvinov in November, 2008.  Sympathizers of the now banned "Workers Party" clashed with police in running battles, turning the depressed coal town of Litvinov into a war zone. 

Czech anti-Roma attitudes are so ingrained, Czech TV recently allowed to air anti-Roma political advertising by the far-right National Party, ahead of the European elections. The video promoted, quote-unquote: “a final solution to the Gypsy question”.

The ads were eventually pulled.

As, relations between ethnic Czechs and Roma have worsened over the past few years. 

In a recent poll, the vast majority of people in the Czech Republic continue to perceive the co-existence of Roma and non-Roma as problematic. Relations with the Roma minority were rated “poor” by 82 % of respondents, of whom 33 % rated relations as “very poor”. Only 13 % of Czechs rated relations with the Roma as “good”. The research, conducted during April by the Center for Public Opinion Research, (Centrum pro výzkum veřejného mínění - CVVM) was released today.

CVVM says the ratings have been worsening steadily since 2006. At that time, 69 % of Czechs evaluated co-existence between the Roma minority and non-Roma negatively, with 22 % evaluating it as positive.

Will justice be served in Ostrava?

Probably.  The Czechs are under the spotlight, and know if they four get off lightly the country's reputation will take another hit.

Whether it will mean any greater understand between Czechs and Roma.  That's another matter.
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