Following the latest violent attack against the Czech Roma community, in which an unknown perpetrators threw petrol bombs into a Roma-inhabited house on Saturday night, leaving a 2-year-old girl in a critical condition, Roma organisations have called on Roma to seek asylum in Canada. At the same time, Canada is urging the Czech government to crack down on operators who they say are probably behind the rising number of Czech Roma seeking asylum. But experts say racism is not the only reason behind the increase.
Extremist groups intensifying activity
Last week’s incident, which took place just hours after hundreds of far-right extremists marched through the northern Bohemian city of Ústí nad Labem, is not an isolated case of violence against Roma, Hospodářské noviny reported. In northern Moravia, at least ten such attacks happened in the past. The scenario was similar: The perpetrators threw petrol bombs in a Roma-inhabited house at night and disappeared. The police have not found the aggressors, Hospodářské noviny said.
The attack in Vítkov and the neo-Nazi march in Ústí nad Labem got on the agenda of the government meeting on Monday. Outgoing Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek did not want to say what specifically the cabinet would do to fight the rising extremism in the country. He only said that the state should use both prevention and restrictions when dealing with extremists groups. Exact proposals will be included in a draft policy of a fight against extremism that ministers will discuss in two weeks.
The only measure that Topolánek has suggested is to ban neo-Nazi demonstrations. At present, authorities have three days to ban a suspicious march. But if neo-Nazi groups announce a march on Friday, the officers cannot check it during the weekend. In the future, the law could be changed to include only working days in the deadline.
The city of Ústí nad Labem banned two of three extremist marches announced for last weekend, but courts cancelled the city hall’s ban.
Recently, the government has attempted to ban the Workers’ Party, which organises marches into Roma ghettos and threatens with a “Gipsy terror”. However, a court rejected the Interior Ministry’s proposal.
“The Workers’ Party will now intensify its activities ahead of the European Parliament elections. If they manage to get one per cent of votes, they will receive CZK 30 for each vote, which will be their financial base for further expansion,” Hospodářské noviny quoted political scientist Miroslav Mareš as saying.
Czech extremists have invited US political scientist David Duke, a well-known racist and Holocaust denier, to deliver a few lectures in Prague and Brno this weekend, the news site iDNES.cz reported. One of the lectures was to take place at the Charles University, but the school banned the event.
However, a shift in activities of the domestic neo-Nazi movement is apparent. Until now, it has focused on racially and politically motivated attacks, on spreading of its propaganda on the internet and on leaflets distributed to people’s mail boxes.
“What is new about the far-right movement is its effort to present itself also at other places than its own events. Small groups of far-right extremists take part in various exhibitions, seminars, and street festivals, where they distribute their materials, provoke discussions, trying to convinced the passers-by about their opinions,” iDNES.cz quoted Jan Šubert, spokesman for the counter-intelligence service BIS.
Roma leaving for Canada again
Following the racial attacks at home, Czech Roma are once again seekying asylum in Canada. They have a big chance to succeed. Canadian authorities accepted 84 Czech refugee claims last year, while only five were rejected, 11 abandoned, and 95 claims were withdrawn. The National Post, a Canadian daily, reported last week that the Czech Republic has suddenly become one of Canada’s top seven sources of refugees, ahead of violence-stricken countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia. The increase, believed to emanate from the minority Roma community, began in late 2007 when Canada lifted the visa requirement for Czech visitors to Canada, The National Post said.
However, the daily Lidové noviny reported that there is also a strong economic factor behind the Roma exodus. Referring to a report by several experts dealing with the Roma issue for many years, the daily said that the migration is managed and prepared by so-called prospectors, former Czechoslovak citizens. The Roma Community Centre in Toronto plays the key role in the process, as it present the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board with information on the situation of the Roma minority in the Czech Republic on the one hand, and represents immigrants in asylum proceedings at the same committee on the other hand. The immigration committee is influenced by the prospectors to the extent that it does not require evidence of discrimination, the authors of the report say.
Canada’s Immigration Minister Jason Kenney called on the Czech government last week to crack down on unscrupulous operators that are believed to be behind a massive surge in the number of refugee claimants arriving at Canadian airports from that country.
“It’s hard to believe that the Czech Republic is an island of persecution in Europe,” Kenney told Canwest News Service.