Mainstream antipathy to Roma bigger threat than far right, warns Czech intelligence

Photo: Filip Jandourek

In recent months, a series of violent rallies targeting Romany communities have been seen in the Czech Republic. Besides known far-right activists, the protestors have included large numbers of ordinary locals frustrated with what they see as the authorities’ inability to deal with high crime levels and other problems plaguing Romany-dominated districts. Now, the Czech intelligence service has warned that anti-Romany sentiments in mainstream society could become a more serious threat than far-right extremism. I discussed the report with sociologist Ivan Gabal.

Photo: Jiří Čondl
“We are witnessing two competing tendencies. One is a slow effort by the government to build integration policies to overcome social exclusion, and to lower the number of people living in excluded localities. The other is the worsening situation inside these localities, and the conflict atmosphere in their vicinities.

“The latter is pushing the problems faced by Romany localities towards security issues, and I think that the intelligence service simply means that this shifting tendency has become really significant.”

Why do you think anti-Romany sentiments are increasing? Some observes suggest Romanies have become a scapegoat for many ethnic Czechs who themselves are hit by the economic depression…

“What we see and what the intelligence service is describing is the situation in some of the northern regions and some localities in southern Bohemia. There, rallies are organized and attended by frustrated neighbours of these localities. We don’t see these events taking place in Prague or Brno, for example. So I would link these developments to the daily experience of living next to these ghettos, with high crime levels and poor relations between the majority population and Romanies, including Roma children.”

If the situation is deteriorating, would you say that the government programmes of social inclusion have failed?

Photo: Filip Jandourek
“Failed is too strong an expression. What we have seen is a slowdown due to the fact that the previous Nečas government decided to cancel the position of minister for human rights who was mostly responsible for integration programmes.

“The government tried to move this agenda towards social and educational policies. In these areas, mainly in education, we have not seen the desired changed, namely an increase in the capacity of elementary schools to educate children with Roma and socially excluded Roma background.”