Demonstration in Duchcov sparks fears of renewed violence

Photo: CTK

A few hundred people gathered in the north Bohemian town of Duchcov on Wednesday evening to protest against a rise in violence, specifically a recent beating of a local couple by a group of Romanies. Although most participants peacefully listened to the organizers and the town’s mayor Jitka Bártová, a couple of hundred people staged an unannounced march towards the neighborhood where most Roma reside, chanting racist slogans. The police prevented direct confrontation from taking place, and organizers as well as the authorities have appealed for calm, but the situation is still tense, reminding some of the events in the Šluknov region in 2011.

Photo: CTK
Radio Prague spoke to Martin Šimáček head of the government agency for social inclusion, who was present at the demonstration and asked him what sense he got of the organizers’ intentions.

“I was listening to the organizers during the demonstration and they were saying that they just want to be understood and that they are not against all Roma people. But I feel that the demonstration in the end was against all the Roma people in the city. They were just trying to be correct, but also riding the way of the popular mood in the city and addressing the people who want to hear things like ‘we don’t want Roma people here in our city’.”

And from your perspective, how is the city administration dealing with this situation?

“When the mayor was talking to the people on the square and I’m afraid that she is partly on the side of the populist politicians who do not want to actually find a solution, but to improve their own position. Our agency cooperated with the city administration for six months last year, and we had to stop the cooperation a year ago because of a conflict over the solutions to the situation in the city.

Martin Šimáček,  photo: archive of Radio Prague
“There is a huge problem with housing in the city. And they planned huge privatization of houses where the Roma live. We wanted to allow the people to stay in their houses with some basic services, support for education. And I feel that from the side of the mayor there is no support for such measures that would bring about some solutions. So, there is a big difference between what she says and what she actually does.

“I hope that there will be an opportunity to go back and look for some solutions again, and this is what we will try to focus on in the next few days, now after the demonstration and maybe before the next one.”

So, does that mean that you feel this is not over, that the situation may escalate even further, similarly to what happened in Šluknov two years ago?

“I hope not. I feel that people just want to see some response to the crimes that have been committed in the city and they also want to see that the politicians have the situation under control and they have some kind of solution. So I think we can expect some sort of meeting in the future, but we want to take steps to prevent any violence.

“The mayor just announced that she wants to organize this kind of meeting, which could bring about some solutions, some visions. And I feel that this could be a good step for the future and we want to prepare for a meeting like this. I would prefer an organized meeting rather than another demonstration. And I feel that the situation [in Duchcov] is not so extreme, so that we have no reason to expect something similar to what happened in Šluknov.”

What steps do you think need to be taken specifically in Duchcov?

Photo: CTK
“We need to talk to the police, we also really need to explain to residents what the police can do to bring about a calmer situation and also provide some assurances that the crimes which have been happening since the beginning of the year will not happen again.

“Another important things is to implement measures to support social cohesion in the city, involving social services, supporting education, employment mostly poor people, Roma people. Citizens of Duchcov must see that there is a clear plan put forward by the local authorities, and we want to support and help with that.”