Of all the countries visited on this trip – Turkey, Greece, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Hungary, and Czech Republic – the least amount of English spoken is in the Czech Republic. I’m in České Budějovice and the surrounding areas until August when I travel to Prague. I’ve wondered if you get a truer picture of a country from spending time in its cities or smaller towns and haven’t come to a conclusion about that yet. I tried to divide my time between large cities and more rural locations, preferring to spend a bit more time in the cities. So far, all the cities have been extraordinary experiences – Istanbul, Athens, Split, Zagreb, Ljubljana, Budapest, Vienna – and I’m looking forward to Prague!
Traveling alone in foreign countries where you don’t know any one is a very interesting and thought-provoking experience. Of course it’s much more challenging when there’s a language barrier. During the week I’ve spent in České Budějovice I noticed an “unrest” about the place but wasn’t able to figure it out or talk about it with any locals. I did a bit of research and discovered that the city is known for its protests against the Roma minority in the Czech Republic.
Anti-Romanyism or Anti-Gypsyism is “hostility, prejudice, or racism directed at the Romani people, also known as Gypsies”. It’s wise to avoid controversy while traveling but I had no idea these issues even existed and find it an interesting topic. For a few years northern Bohemia has been a “hot bed” of riots between Czech locals and newly settled Roma people, with violence breaking out on both sides. “What started as a series of brutal but isolated fights grew into a popular movement in small towns along the eastern German border. Right-wing extremists stepped in to fan the hatred.”
One far-right organization the “Workers’ Party for Social Justice,” or DSSS by its Czech initials, is a successor party to the neo-Nazi group Dlnická Strana (DS), banned several years ago by the highest Czech administrative court. One reason the court banned the DS was their organized rallies that led to “pogrom-like” riots against the Roma. For several years far-right extremists have been on the offensive worrying about the growing Roma minority in the Czech Republic. “In a part of Bohemia called Šluknovský výbžek, near the border with the eastern German state of Saxony, a feud raged between ethnic Czech locals and several hundred Roma. The Czech Interior Minister sent police to the region to resolve the problems.”
Strong anti-Roma sentiment has also been associated with other parts of Europe, like Bulgaria and Hungary, where bloody riots against the Roma took place for years. The French government is known for deporting Roma gypsies who can’t support themselves. Much of the research I found indicates that violence against the Roma is nothing new and it’s partly due to the lack of plans European governments have in place for dealing with tensions emerging from a Roma presence. “The lack of a consolidated plan means the problem of ghettoized Roma communities, surviving from a lifestyle where petty theft and crime play a large part in daily existence, continues to remain rife.”
Many think the lack of governmental preparation leads to “mainstream discrimination allowing citizens to take matters into their own hands”. I read about a protest in České Budějovice as recently as July 14 – shortly before I arrived. According to the police, over 300 anti-Roma protestors assembled in Přemysl Otakar II Square. Another demonstration occurred in the square a week earlier on July 7 when about 130 people were arrested during that protest.
“Czech law enforcement officers deal with the recurring unrest. Mounted police units disperse demonstrators, while a helicopter monitors from the air. Many citizens were arrested for obstructing justice and according to the police those detained failed to respond to demands to disperse.”
Tension has persisted in České Budějovice since June 21, when an incident in a playground turned into clashes and skirmishes, involving over 100 people. About ten people sustained injuries.
In Duchcov, a town near Prague, a brutal assault on a Czech couple by Romani perpetrators recently made the news and sparked anti-Roma demonstrations there. This month the Council of Europe (CE) Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muiznieks, expressed concern about recent anti-Romany incidents in some Czech Republic cities, including České Budějovice. He said “Czech authorities should send a clear warning signal saying they would not tolerate any manifestations of hatred”.
Muiznieks called on the mayors of the Czech towns concerned to take necessary steps to prevent further violence against Romanies. He called on the Czech Republic to intensify its effort to improve the conditions of Romanies.