NEWS - Archive November 2008

Headlines 28 November, 2008

'OUR CULTURE IS BETTER' (Netherlands, interview)

Champion of freedom or anti-Islamic provocateur? Both.
By James Taranto

28/11/2008- By his own description, Geert Wilders is not a typical Dutch politician. "We are a country of consensus," he tells me on a recent Saturday morning at his midtown Manhattan hotel. "I hate consensus. I like confrontation. I am not a consensus politician. . . . This is something that is really very un-Dutch." Yet the 45-year-old Mr. Wilders says he is the most famous politician in the Netherlands: "Everybody knows me. . . . There is no other politician -- not even the prime minister -- who is as well-known. . . . People hate me, or they love me. There's nothing in between. There is no gray area." To his admirers, Mr. Wilders is a champion of Western values on a continent that has lost confidence in them. To his detractors, he is an anti-Islamic provocateur. Both sides have a point.

In March, Mr. Wilders released a short film called "Fitna," a harsh treatment of Islam that begins by interspersing inflammatory Quran passages with newspaper and TV clips depicting threats and acts of violent jihad. The second half of the film, titled "The Netherlands Under the Spell of Islam," warns that Holland's growing Muslim population -- which more than doubled between 1990 and 2004, to 944,000, some 5.8% of the populace -- poses a threat to the country's traditional liberal values. Under the heading, "The Netherlands in the future?!" it shows brutal images from Muslim countries: men being hanged for homosexuality, a beheaded woman, another woman apparently undergoing genital mutilation. Making such a film, Mr. Wilders knew, was a dangerous act. In November 2004, Theo van Gogh was assassinated on an Amsterdam street in retaliation for directing a film called "Submission" about Islam's treatment of women. The killer, Mohammed Bouyeri, left a letter on van Gogh's body threatening Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the film's writer and narrator.

Ms. Hirsi Ali, born in Somalia, had renounced Islam and been elected to the Dutch Parliament, where she was an ally of Mr. Wilders. Both belonged to the center-right People's Party for Freedom and Democracy, known by the Dutch acronym VVD. Both took a hard line on what they saw as an overly accommodationist policy toward the Netherlands' Muslim minority. They argued that radical imams "should be stripped of their nationality," that their mosques should be closed, and that "we should be strong in defending the rights of women," Mr. Wilders tells me. This made them dissenters within the VVD. "We got into trouble every week," Mr. Wilders recalls. "We were like children going to their parents if they did something wrong, because every week they hassled us. . . . We really didn't care what anybody said. If the factional leadership said, 'Well, you cannot go to this TV program,' for us it was an incentive to go, not not to go. So we were a little bit of two mavericks, rebels if you like." Mr. Wilders finally quit the party over its support for opening negotiations to admit Turkey into the European Union. That was in September 2004. "Two months later, Theo van Gogh was killed, and the whole world changed," says Mr. Wilders. He and Ms. Hirsi Ali both went into hiding; he still travels with bodyguards. After a VVD rival threatened to strip Ms. Hirsi Ali's citizenship over misstatements on her 1992 asylum application, she left Parliament and took a fellowship at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Mr. Wilders stayed on and formed the Party for Freedom, or PVV. In 2006 it became Parliament's fifth-largest party, with nine seats in the 150-member lower chamber.

Having his own party liberates Mr. Wilders to speak his mind. As he sees it, the West suffers from an excess of toleration for those who do not share its tradition of tolerance. "We believe that -- 'we' means the political elite -- that all cultures are equal," he says. "I believe this is the biggest disease today facing Europe. . . . We should wake up and tell ourselves: You're not a xenophobe, you're not a racist, you're not a crazy guy if you say, 'My culture is better than yours.' A culture based on Christianity, Judaism, humanism is better. Look at how we treat women, look at how we treat apostates, look at how we go with the separation of church and state. I can give you 500 examples why our culture is better." He acknowledges that "the majority of Muslims in Europe and America are not terrorists or violent people." But he says "it really doesn't matter that much, because if you don't define your own culture as the best, dominant one, and you allow through immigration people from those countries to come in, at the end of the day you will lose your own identity and your own culture, and your society will change. And our freedom will change -- all the freedoms we have will change."

The murder of van Gogh lends credence to this warning, as does the Muhammad cartoon controversy of 2005 in Denmark. As for "Fitna," it has not occasioned a violent response, but its foes have made efforts to suppress it. A Dutch Muslim organization went to court seeking to enjoin its release on the ground that, in Mr. Wilders's words, "it's not in the interest of Dutch security." The plaintiffs also charged Mr. Wilders with blasphemy and inciting hatred. Mr. Wilders thought the argument frivolous, but decided to pre-empt it: "The day before the verdict, I broadcasted ['Fitna'] . . . not because I was not confident in the outcome, but I thought: I'm not taking any chance, I'm doing it. And it was legal, because there was not a verdict yet." The judge held that the national-security claim was moot and ruled in Mr. Wilders's favor on the issues of blasphemy and incitement. Dutch television stations had balked at broadcasting the film, and satellite companies refused to carry it even for a fee. So Mr. Wilders released it online. The British video site soon pulled the film, citing "threats to our staff of a very serious nature," but put it back online a few days later. ("Fitna" is still available on LiveLeak, as well as on other sites such as YouTube and Google Video.)

An organization called The Netherlands Shows Its Colors filed a criminal complaint against Mr. Wilders for "inciting hatred." In June, Dutch prosecutors declined to pursue the charge, saying in a statement: "That comments are hurtful and offensive for a large number of Muslims does not mean that they are punishable." The group is appealing the prosecutors' decision. In July, a Jordanian prosecutor, acting on a complaint from a pressure group there, charged Mr. Wilders with blasphemy and other crimes. The Netherlands has no extradition treaty with Jordan, but Mr. Wilders worries -- and the head of the group that filed the complaint has boasted -- that the indictment could restrict his ability to travel. Mr. Wilders says he does not visit a foreign country without receiving an assurance that he will not be arrested and extradited. "The principle is not me -- it's not about Geert Wilders," he says. "If you look at the press and the rest of the political elite in the Netherlands, nobody cares. Nobody gives a damn. This is the worst thing, maybe. . . . A nondemocratic country cannot use the international or domestic legal system to silence you. . . . If this starts, we can get rid of all parliaments, and we should close down every newspaper, and we should shut up and all pray to Mecca five times a day."

It is difficult to fault Mr. Wilders's impassioned defense of free speech. And although the efforts to silence him via legal harassment have proved far from successful, he rightly points out that they could have a chilling effect, deterring others from speaking out. Mr. Wilders's views on Islam, though, are problematic. Since 9/11, American political leaders have struggled with the question of how to describe the ideology of the enemy without making enemies of the world's billion or so Muslims. The various terms they have tried -- "Islamic extremism," "Islamism," "Islamofascism" -- have fallen short of both clarity and melioration. Melioration is not Mr. Wilders's highest priority, and to him the truth couldn't be clearer: The problem is Islam itself. "I see Islam more as an ideology than as a religion," he explains.

His own view of Islam is a fundamentalist one: "According to the Quran, there are no moderate Muslims. It's not Geert Wilders who's saying that, it's the Quran . . . saying that. It's many imams in the world who decide that. It's the people themselves who speak about it and talk about the terrible things -- the genital mutilation, the honor killings. This is all not Geert Wilders, but those imams themselves who say this is the best way of Islam." Yet he insists that his antagonism toward Islam reflects no antipathy toward Muslims: "I make a distinction between the ideology . . . and the people. . . . There are people who call themselves Muslims and don't subscribe to the full part of the Quran. And those people, of course, we should invest [in], we should talk to." He says he would end Muslim immigration to the Netherlands but work to assimilate those already there.

His idea of how to do so, however, seems unlikely to win many converts: "You have to give up this stupid, fascist book" -- the Quran. "This is what you have to do. You have to give up that book." Mr. Wilders is right to call for a vigilant defense of liberal principles. A society has a right, indeed a duty, to require that religious minorities comply with secular rules of civilized behavior. But to demand that they renounce their religious identity and holy books is itself an affront to liberal principles.
© The Wall Street Journal



28/11/2008- Government integration policy has been "effectively emasculated" with the winding up of two bodies set up to tackle racism and promote interculturalism, the chairwoman of the National Action Plan Against Racism (NPAR) has said. Speaking yesterday at the Metro Éireann Media and Multicultural Awards, Lucy Gaffney said the absence of these bodies will "leave a void at the heart of the Government's efforts in tackling racism" and undermines "our ability to respond to the needs of the new society". It was announced in the Budget that State funding of the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism (NCCRI) is to cease and that some of its functions are to be absorbed by the office of Minister for Integration Conor Lenihan. The NPAR's four-year term finishes at the end of this year. Ms Gaffney appealed to Mr Lenihan, who presented many of the awards at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin yesterday afternoon, to ensure the effort put into integrating those who helped to build the economy was also put in to protecting them when times were not as good. Phillip Watt, chairman of the NCCRI, was presented with a special judges' award. He said both recession and integration were challenges that lay ahead. "We need to redouble our efforts to tackle racism in Ireland," he said as he called on Mr Lenihan to develop a new action plan against racism.

Businessman Denis O'Brien, who is chairman of one of the award's sponsors, the Iris O'Brien Foundation, also appealed to Mr Lenihan. "We really need more action," Mr O'Brien said, adding that it would cost more to fix these problems than to ensure they were not created in the first place. Mr Lenihan hoped that "with the downturn, people don't project anxieties about the economy towards vulnerable immigrants," as took place in other European countries during slowdowns. He insisted the issue of integration would continue to be dealt with in a professional way and said he would announce a new body to incorporate the work of the NPAR before Christmas. "The creation of a new ministry means it is my job rather than other groups' jobs to counter and fight racism and to pursue the valuable work of integrating minority communities into the mainstream," Mr Lenihan said in advance of the awards. The Government cuts are "very short-sighted" and "may create social inequality in the future that will take a hell of a lot more money to fix than the Budget cut," Ms Gaffney said as she presented an award. Mr O'Brien also criticised Mr Lenihan over an opinion piece in The Irish Times about the abolition of the NCCRI and NPAR.

"I was very disturbed to read an article in The Irish Times criticising the work of NPAR. "Clearly there are background briefings going on from some forces within Government and obviously the journalist is, she is, being fed this and has to write the article. "But at the end of the day it is an appalling way to treat people that are on the committee of NPAR of the work that they are doing is to be critical in a backhand sort of way and this has to stop and hopefully it will never happen again," Mr O'Brien said. The NCCRI, which employs 13 people, has played a prominent role in advising governmental and other bodies, recording racist incidents and researching immigration and social integration. Immigrant and voluntary groups have strongly criticised the Government's decision to withdraw funding from the NCCRI.
© The Irish Times



A detailed study of xenophobic attitudes in Germany shows encouraging trends. Fewer Germans overall think foreigners need to go. But in some German states racism has risen, and a measure of anti-Semitism remains.

27/11/2008- Overall it's good news. Since 2002 the German population has grown more resistant to the nationalist far right. Furthermore, xenophobia as well as anti-democratic tendencies have weakened. That's the conclusion of a new study presented on Thursday by researchers from Leipzig University, who have conducted a long-term study with support from the Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung. On the occasion of their fourth interim report since 2002, the researchers feel confident in saying that German "far-right tendencies have declined overall." They've conducted polls every two years to test "chauvinism," "xenophobia," "anti-Semitism" and general consent for authoritarian government in each of Germany's states (except the city of Bremen, which was judged too small for useful results). "Chauvinism" includes German nationalism, but also pride in one federal state against the others. The final report, called "Movement in the Middle," found a decline in all categories overall -- with some alarming exceptions.

In "hostility to foreigners" the leading states were Saxony-Anhalt (39.3 percent), Bavaria (39.1 percent) and Brandenburg (34.6 percent). Those states also happened to lead in "chauvinism" (Bavaria 30.4 percent, Brandenburg 24.5 percent), but it was Bavaria that distinguished itself in the "anti-Semitism" category, with 16.6 percent, above Thüringia and Baden-Württemberg (12.9 and 13.3 percent respectively). The percentages reflected the number of people, out of 2,500, who answered questions in a way that suggested general support for the attitudes under investigation. For example, in the anti-Semitism category, one statement -- which respondents could affirm or reject -- was, "Jews still have too much influence." The chauvinism category included, "We should have the courage again to feel strong national pride," and, "the highest goal of German politics should be to win the prestige and power that Germany deserves." Respondents could weigh their answers in five degrees, ranging from "I fully agree" to "I fully disagree."

East vs. West
The study also broke its results into "East" and "West," to measure attitudes in the former East and West Germany. These results registered a rise in the east in all three categories. The fraction of respondents tending toward anti-Semitism in the east, for example, rose from 4.8 percent in 2002 to 7.9 percent in 2008. The average for all of Germany declined slightly over the same period, from 9.3 percent to 9.0. The results are mixed, but researchers say the overall decline suggests a weakening far right. They pointed to a clear slump in answers showing "support for a dictatorship." The average for all of Germany agreeing with statements like, "we need a leader who will rule Germany with a strong hand for the good of all," has declined steadily over six years, from 7.7 percent to 3.7 percent. In eastern states there was also a steady downward trend, from 8.9 percent to 5.6. The researchers warn against oversimplifying the results into an easy contrast between east and west. "In spite of a decline in far-right attitudes, western Germany is not an island of happy tolerance," they point out. But Germany as a whole is not about to topple into neo-Nazi dictatorship anytime soon. German society enjoys "a stable democracy and a healthy vigilance against far-right extremism," the researchers conclude.
© The Spiegel



27/11/2008- Five harbor police officers are charged with belonging to a criminal gang that smuggled illegal immigrants to Italy, authorities said Thursday. The officers, who served at Greece's third largest port of Patras, were among eight people arrested and charged with ring membership late Wednesday. Merchant Marine Minister Anastassis Papaligouras said the officers would be suspended. "There is no place for corrupt harbor police, no escape," he said Thursday. "The Patras case saddens and angers us all." The harbor master of Patras was dismissed over the incident, although Merchant Marine Ministry officials say he is not suspected of involvement in the ring.
Authorities are seeking another four Greeks and three foreign nationals — including the ring's alleged Iraqi mastermind. Police said the gang operated for the past two years, using trucks and cars to smuggle illegal migrants to Italy. They said migrants each paid the gang 3,000 to 5,000 euros ($3,880 to 6,400). Greece is a major transit point for thousands of illegal migrants, mostly from Asia and Africa, seeking a better life in western Europe. The southern port city of Patras is the country's main gateway to the west, and attracts large numbers of illegal immigrants hoping to sneak onto Italy-bound ferries. According to Greek authorities, more than 100,000 illegal migrants entered the country last year. Many attempt dangerous sea crossings, through the country's porous marine border with Turkey, or brave minefields to make their way in. Greece has repeatedly asked for European Union aid in addressing the problem. In a separate incident on the Aegean Sea island of Evia late Tuesday, police confiscated a Sierra Leone-flagged cargo ship and arrested its Egyptian captain on suspicion of smuggling 11 illegal immigrants — also Egyptians — into Greece. Police detained the migrants and arrested two Egyptian men suspected of belonging to a smuggling gang.
© International Herald Tribune



25/11/2008- The Polish Foreign Affairs Minister Radoslaw Sikorsky has stirred a big scandal with his statement that the grandfather of the US President-elect Barack Obama has been cannibal, a joke that was deemed shocking by his fellow Polish politicians. Sikorsky, who is an Oxford graduate had said laughing "His grandfather ate a Polish missionary years ago." The Polish authorities have asked that Sikorsky is sued for racism. Another Polish politician, the Member of the Polish Parliament Arthur Gorsky, is also going to face the tribunal over accusations of racism. The reason is another statement about Obama, who Gorsky described as the "black messiah of the new left." Gorsky further defined Obama's presidential win as the "end of white man's civilization."
© Novinite


28/11/2008- Czech Romany representatives on Friday called for the dismissal of minister in charge of ethnic minorities and human rights Dzamila Stehlikova over her failure to resolve the situation at Litvinov's Janov housing estate, Iveta Demeterova, from Dzeno association, told CTK. Representatives of Romanies from Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia headed by Ivan Vesely, deputy chairman of the government's council for Romany issues and chairman of Dzeno, said they were dissatisfied with Stehlikova's approach to the critical situation at Janov, mainly populated by Romanies. However, Stehlikova said the solution did not lie in looking for mistakes in others, but in looking for a joint positive decision. Disputes between Romanies and other residents at Litvinov's Janov housing estate have been escalating for a long time. In February, monitoring patrols of the far-right Workers' Party appeared on Janov's streets and they became a target of local Romanies' verbal attacks. The party staged two events in Litvinov during which extremists clashed with the police. However, the far-right radicals also met with the support from local residents. The Romany representatives on Friday condemned the DS's actions.They expressed their support to all decent Romanies from the Janov housing estate and denounced those Romanies who do not observe laws. However, they also pointed out that the situation in Litvinov had not changed in the past weeks which was the reason why they demanded Stehlikova's dismissal. "The main reason is that nothing has been done to improve the situation over the 20 months during which the problems in Janov escalated," Vesely told CTK. Stehlikova said "all should act as one team" to resolve the situation. "Let those people who know a solution contribute to it. Everyone should assume his own share of responsibility and work on the solution to the problem that is very serious," Stehlikova told CTK. During the latest event organised by the Workers' Party in Litvinov, about 1000 riot policemen clashed with some 500 far-right radicals near Janov in what was probably the toughest encounter since 2000 when riots accompanied the world financial institutions' session in Prague. Sixteen people were injured in the incident, in which a helicopter, mounted police and water cannons were deployed.
© The Prague Daily Monitor



28/11/2008- The Czech far-right Workers' Party (DS) plans to stage a demonstration against the proposed outlawing of the party in Prague on December 6, near the venue of the senior government Civic Democrats (ODS) congress. The government of the ODS, the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL) and the Greens (SZ) decided on Monday to propose that the Supreme Administrative Court abolish the DS. The government says the DS has violated laws. Interior Minister Ivan Langer (ODS) has called the DS extremist. According to the Prague Town Hall's data, the DS officially announced to stage a meeting "against the ban on the Workers' Party" in reaction to the government's decision in the Prague-Vysocany neighbourhood. The protest is to be attended by some 500 people. Langer previously said, commenting on the DS's activities, it is impossible to conceal the activities incompatible with the functioning of a democratic law-abiding state behind the demand for a free competition between political parties and movements. He pointed to the DS's statement from October 17 in which the party declared "zero tolerance towards the post-Communist political system" saying that it had been calling for ousting of this system for a long time. DS chairman Tomas Vandas called the government's proposal an "absolutely nonsensical decision" without any legal substantiation. He said the DS had never violated laws and that the calls for its outlawing were a mere effort at intimidating an opposition political party. In reaction to the cabinet's decision, the DS said it would stage "the largest and most radical resistence to the government in the country after 1989" when the communist regime collapsed.

The DS recently drew attention by its intervention in Litvinov. The DS organised rallies and marches aimed against Romany inhabitants at the Janov housing estate in Litvinov, who according to the extremists bother non-Romany neighbours. The radicals marched to the Janov housing estate on October 4 and 18 and on November 17 already. The last event, in which some 600-700 radicals took part, resulted in a sharp clash between the extremists and police. The radicals were supported by local inhabitants. A total of 1500 people participated in the march in the end, according to some witnesses. Supporters of the two most significant ultra-right grouping in the Czech Republic, the neo-Nazi National Resistence and Autonomous Nationalists, have regularly appeared at DS events. When another similar organisation, the National Corporativism, ended its work this year, it recommended its members to enter the DS. However, the DS leaders reject any connection with neo-Nazis. The DS previously filed a complaint against listing its logo, a toothed wheel with the party's initials inside, among extremists signs in a police booklet. Experts say the DS logo clearly resembles the symbol of the German Labour Front (Deutsche Arbeitsfront), the Nazi union organisation that replaced all independent unions in 1933.
© The Prague Daily Monitor



25/11/2008- "A new political party will definitely be established," Tomas Vandas asserts in the daily Lidove noviny (LN) today, in reaction to the Czech government's proposal that his ultra-right Workers' Party (DS) be outlawed by court over its extremist positions. "We have a plan how to react. No one can expect us to return to our homes and cease dealing with politics. Not even a political simpleton like Interior Minister Ivan Langer can expect this. It is no problem to establish a new political party," Vandas points out. Vandas says the DS is by no means surprised at the government's initiative. "We expected this verdict by the government. It reflects the cowardice of the government officials who fear to honestly face us in elections," Vandas told the paper. The DS, an extra-parliamentary grouping, has not gained massive support in elections so far, which Vandas blames on "the conditions in which we are working." In view of these conditions, nonetheless, the DS's latest election "result was not that bad. In the 2004 regional elections we were supported by about 3,000 people, while in the recent polls the number reached 26,000," Vandas said. "Our popularity has been steadily growing. In the [mid-2009] EP elections we might gain 2 to 3 percent of the vote," he added.

The government proposed the outlawing of Vandas's DS, an extra-parliamentary grouping, on Monday at Langer's request. Previously, government officials sharply condemned the DS's excesses such as its November 17 march against the Romany community in Litvinov, north Bohemia, which the local police prevented using force. Langer (Civic Democrats, ODS) on Monday pointed to the DS's recent statement in which the party declared zero tolerance towards and a crusade against the post-1989 political system. Vandas told LN that the DS's popularity is growing because "we openly and loudly speak about corruption and crime in the Czech Republic and about political elites being tied with the mafia. People are annoyed at ordinary citizens being pushed into the corner without a chance to find support anywhere." He said the DS is planning another meeting in Litvinov on December 13, and is pondering staging an anti-government demonstration in Prague.
© Romano vodi



24/11/2008- The Czech government will ask the Supreme Administrative Court to outlaw the far-right Workers' Party (DS) at the request of Interior Minister Ivan Langer (Civic Democrats, ODS) who described the party as extremist. The DS is connected with other ultra-right groups and its events are attended, for instance, by the supporters of the neo-Nazi National Resistence and Autonomous Nationalists parties. Czech Minister for Ethnic Minorities and Human Rights Dzamila Stehlikova (junior government Green Party, SZ) confirmed the government's decision to CTK. Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek (ODS) was determined to support Langer's proposal to outlaw the DS a week ago already, reacting to the clashes between far right extremists and the police that occurred in Litvinov, north Bohemia, on November 17. "Such excesses that happened in Litvinov must be severely punished," Topolanek then said. According to Langer, it is impossible to conceal the activities incompatible with the functioning of a democratic law-abiding state behind the demand of a free competition between political parties and movement. He pointed to the DS's statement from October 17 in which the party declared "zero tolerance towards the post-November 1989 political system" saying that it has been calling for ousting of this system for a long time. DS chairman Tomas Vandas told CTK previously that it was an "absolutely nonsensical decision" that had no legal substantiation. He said the DS had never violated laws in any way and that the calls for its outlawing were a mere effort at intimidating an opposition political party. He said that almost 29,000 people voted for the Workers' Party in the October regional elections. The Interior Ministry cannot outlaw a political party but it can ask the government to do. The government addresses the Supreme Administrative Court with the proposal. There is no legal means to cancel the court's decision, it is only possible to submit a proposal for the renewal of the proceedings.
© Ceske Noviny


STAYING SILENT(Czech Rep., Commentary)

How many neo-Nazis does it take to start 'ethnic troubles'? 
By Gwendolyn Albert

26/11/2008- If the media is anything to go by, the neo-Nazi violence in Litvínov Nov. 17 has largely achieved the organizers’ aims of promoting nationalist hatred in the Czech Republic. Headlines referring to rasové nepokoje (“ethnic troubles”) have largely oversimplified what is actually going on: namely, the international neo-Nazi movement is targeting a hate campaign against this particular Roma community. The commitment of these neo-Nazis, the energy of the attack on the Roma community at the Janov housing estate and the neo-Nazis’ aggression toward the police are new and very dangerous developments. Cyril Koky, a member of the Czech Government Council for Roma Community Affairs, said Czech Human Rights and Minorities Minister Džamila Stehlíková should consider resigning over the failure of her efforts to avert Nov. 17’s violence. As everyone following the developments in Litvínov predicted to the authorities, the Janov housing estate was turned into something resembling a warzone for several hours on a national holiday. The “troubles” were not between “ethnic groups” at all, but between members of the international neo-Nazi movement and the Czech police. Worse still, many non-Roma locals in Litvínov have made it clear in media interviews that they believe the neo-Nazis should be allowed to carry out their violent intentions without police interference.

Koky is correct that Stehlíková and other authorities are to blame. At a meeting last month at the Interior Ministry — which included various NGOs and government officials — to discuss security in Roma neighborhoods after October’s riot in Litvínov, the authorities’ responses bordered on the surreal. Czech Government Commissioner for Human Rights Jan Litomiský, as usual, sat through the meeting without opening his mouth during the free-ranging “discussion.” While the vast majority of those present complained about neo-Nazi violence and the lack of official action against it, officials kept reiterating how much money had been spent on “preventing crime” within the Roma community — a different issue entirely and totally unrelated to suppressing neo-Nazi violence. An Interior Ministry spokesperson even went so far as to say the ministry could not take steps to dissolve the National Party’s paramilitary National Guard “because it is not an officially registered organization.” I could hardly believe my ears — organized crime doesn’t “officially register” with the Interior Ministry either, but we still expect the police to try to stop it.

The Litvínov situation raises serious questions about the rule of law in the Czech Republic. Consider the sequence of events:
On Oct. 18, a neo-Nazi Workers Party demonstration there turned into a riot against the police, generating media images of Roma men in Janov holding weapons and preparing to defend themselves should the police fail them and the mob reach their part of town. The riot began after Mayor Milan Šťovíček attempted to disperse the demonstration. He himself was threatened with physical violence and only spared it by police presence. On Oct. 20, the organizers of this violence remained at large. They publicly issued an “ultimatum” to the town hall that if it did not “address the situation” in Janov “by the end of the month” they would return to Litvínov “in even larger numbers.” Most of those committed to this “cause” do not, in fact, live in Litvínov, and some came from as far away as Slovakia to participate in the violence.

According to Tolerance, an organization that has monitored the neo-Nazi movement in Central Europe for more than a decade, two of the neo-Nazis who then helped convene the Nov. 17 gathering, Jiří Bunda and Michal Glas, had committed violence Oct. 18 in Litvínov. The town would have been well within its legal powers to ban outright any demonstration involving these people. Instead, the town did nothing, and the march devolved into a clash with law enforcement and an operation that saw police fending off random attempts by small groups of neo-Nazis to reach the Roma part of Janov well into the night. The neo-Nazis set a police car on fire and injured seven officers, including one on horseback; numerous other people were injured, as well. Šťovíček, who by then had become the target both of physical attack and “ultimatums” from people who are not even his constituents, was then quoted in the Czech press Nov. 19 as follows: “I think the problem is escalated by the people who live there [in Janov]. They are inadaptable. They irritate decent people who go to work every day and live quietly. They irritate them not only through their behavior but through their constant crime.” The term “inadaptable” is the usual code term for the Roma, and the mayor took pains to make it very clear to the voters that the Roma are entirely to blame for this situation. Meanwhile, the neo-Nazis had already announced their intention to “demonstrate” again very soon. Is Šťovíček a hostage to this situation or is he a willing, if seemingly neutral, participant in this campaign against the Roma?

I was in Litvínov the whole day Nov. 17. The “Roma” part of the Janov housing estate does not look like a crime-ridden slum — it is all but indistinguishable from the rest of the place. I am not a Roma, but I came and went freely without any problem. At the gathering on the main square, I overheard local people complaining about “Gypsies” — not complaining about violence, theft or drugs, but about Roma children playing in the street and Roma parents charging them with racism. I recalled the Interior Ministry meeting, at which a non-Roma resident of the Janov housing estate stated that his cause for complaint was not crime or violence, but simply that he felt he was now “in the minority” in his part of town. So who is having trouble “adapting” here? It seems to me that the non-Roma residents of Litvínov who cheer on the visiting vigilantes are having trouble adapting to what the rule of law is like in a democracy. What bothers them the most, it seems, is that they can’t call the police over the fact that the Roma are simply there. For that, they turn to someone else.
What is the solution? Municipal authorities should not be afraid to ban neo-Nazi gatherings and to shift these “troubles” to the courtroom, and the police should prevent violence at every opportunity in accordance with their legally sanctioned powers. Finally, everyone in this country who can clearly see this racist provocation for what it is needs to speak out. The pervasive, endemic anti-Roma sentiment in this country has cost many lives over the years and is likely to cost more if we do not demand the state use the powers at its disposal to prevent racist hate crime.

What kind of society is in the making as this country prepares to take up the reins of the European Union presidency? An ethnically cleansed society based on mob rule? Or a democracy worthy of the name? The next time Czech politicians are silent about racist violence, the next time someone voices the “anti-Roma mantra” in your presence, what will you do?

The author is the director of the Women’s Initiatives Network of the Peacework Development Fund.
© The Prague Post Online


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