In 2001 František, a 20-year-old Romani man, visited a restaurant at a hotel in Šumava. He didn’t stay long. He felt offended by the interior decor, which included a statue with a baseball bat and a label that read “against gypsies”.

František went to the police to file a complaint against the restaurant. Now a court has decided that this type of decoration cannot offend anyone. It’s just an innocuous joke.

I can’t tell you my opinion

The Supreme Court recently closed the case that had dragged on for eight years. The court refused to deal with the case. The official explanation: An appeal is out of the question because the case does not deal with any significant issue.

But what are the implications of that? Does it mean that every pub owner can have a baseball bat, a favourite weapon of skinheads, on display?

“I can only tell you what the official decision is, not my personal opinion,” said Justice Pavel Pavlík when asked about the case.

And what did the High Court, which dealt with the case in 2006, have to say? The verdict said that František is not entitled to any apology. His dignity was not insulted. The court did say that the baseball bat was an “inappropriate” decoration, but that “it was a joke and that is how the public took it”.

Just a reminder of the atmosphere of 2001: It was a time when Slovakia was dealing with a case where four youths broke into the house of a Romani family and beat the sleeping mother to death using baseball bats.

Pub regulars

It’s not possible, however, to get any better explanation of this “joke”. Justice Zdeňka Ferešová, one of the judges dealing with the case at the time, only points to the decision made by the court and refuses to provide any other comment.

František is annoyed with the Czech courts. “I think the judges cannot share my sentiments. I saw that baseball bat as someone against whom it was meant to be used,” he says.

He wants to continue fighting, and, at the advice of his lawyer, will use the last resort: the Constitutional Court.

“I just want some institution to finally clearly say that people should not be allowed to display a baseball bat with such a label,” says František, now a teacher at an elementary school attended by Romani students.

He says the fact that the bat is no longer on display at the restaurant, which is part of the hotel Na Stráži, is no consolation. He still hasn’t received any sort of an apology.

Hotel owner Jaroslava Brabencová doesn’t see any reason to say sorry. At first she says she wasn’t the one who put the bat on display. “I live in Prague, and it was put on display by restaurant guests,” she says. When reminded that as the owner she is responsible for the restaurant, she adds, “It wasn’t racism. It was a joke. After all, the other side of the bat said “against skinheads”.

So does that mean that Roma should not feel offended? “I don’t see any reason to discuss this issue further,” says Brabencová.

A bat in the hands of skinheads

Romani organisations find the court’s ruling about the label on this bat unfortunate. “Anti-Roma sentiments have prevailed in Czech society for a long time. Roma feel like they have no support. The latest decision by the Supreme Court is only adding fuel to the fire,” says Zdeněk Ryšavý from the organisation Romea.

There were may incidents where a baseball bat was used as a weapon in the hands of aggressors. In 1995 a father of five, Tibor Berki, died after a baseball bat attack. And five years ago, skinheads beat up three Roma in Krnov.