Extremists relying increasingly on internet to whip up anti-Roma sentiments

Photo: Jiří Čondl

Police in a number of Czech towns and cities are gearing up for more anti-Romany protests at the weekend. Marches by the ultra-right in troubled areas will aim to tap into growing anti-Roma sentiment. Extremists are also trying to increase anger through slanderous articles on the internet.

Photo: Jiří Čondl
An article on the internet currently making the rounds among right-wing extremists hoping to spread the message of intolerance claims that Czech Romanies abuse the country’s welfare system, making off with untold thousands which non-Roma go without. Among the lies presented are that Romanies can apply and get a one-off payment of 230,000 crowns, that Romanies directly receive monthly payments for rent from municipalities, and that cities pay for school supplies. The list goes further and has reportedly gained such currency of late that the country’s Employment Office was forced to respond this week. Kateřina Beránková is the bureau’s spokesperson:

“No payments are made in cash or by cheque on the spot or in advance... and the whole document is really just a bunch of nonsense and lies.”

That doesn’t mean the threat shouldn’t be taken seriously: the government’s Human Rights’ Commissioner Monika Šimůnková sees the situation as dangerous. Here’s what she told Czech TV:

“The material is written in a fairly intelligent manner and I have to say I have been getting emails from people who are smart asking me if what was being said was true. I consider material like this as potentially very dangerous.”

Photo: Filip Jandourek
Sociologist Jiřina Šiklová agrees that while extremist views have gained greater attention among some members of the broader public in recent weeks and months, she put growing public anger down to continuing economic uncertainty and the drawn-out political crisis. In her view, the frenzy will die down after elections this fall. Jiřina Šiklová:

“Right now a lot of people are frustrated with other ongoing problems. They are frustrated with politics and with the economy and this is something they want to express. But I think much of it will return to normal, for example, after the upcoming election.”

Hundreds of riot police will monitor the ultra right at the weekend, with the aim of keeping any demonstration from getting out of hand and to keep right-wing supporters from clashing with members of the Roma community.