Roma group blasts Interior for anti-extremism efforts

The Czech Republic’s leading Roma advocacy group, Romea, has announced they are suspending their collaboration with the Ministry of the Interior, saying their relationship and the ministry’s work in combating right-wing extremism has taken a sharp turn for the worse. Citing the approach of the police towards extremist demonstrations this year, the ministry’s cancellation of a multilateral task force and other issues, Romea says further cooperation between them will depend on how numerous missteps will be redressed.

Photo: Štěpánka Budková
Romea has been collaborating on “Task Force C” a ministerial workgroup convened by the previous government of Jan Fischer that brings together representatives of the police, the ministry and non-governmental organisations to brainstorm on policies and issues involving extremism and minorities. That group was recently dissolved by the ministry’s Department of Security Policy and it was suggested that the association take part in a series of seminars instead.

According to Romea’s director Zdeněk Ryšavý, however, that was the last straw. The group argues that the ministry has adopted an unacceptable new attitude in dealing with extremism, beginning with demonstrations earlier this year in the towns of Nový Bydžov and Krupka. In the former, they say the police merely looked on as neo-Nazi speakers broke hate-speech laws; in the latter they alleged that the police were heavy-handed in their dispersal of a Roma religious assembly.

Zdeněk Ryšavý
“Our collaboration with the ministry seemed to us to be beneficial, until the end of 2010, shortly after which time the ministry’s stance on how to confront extremism in the country changed in our opinion. Our main grounds for this view is the way in which the police and the ministry approached two demonstrations of neo-Nazis earlier this year and most importantly of all was the lack of interest of the Department of Security Policy in consulting with NGOs on their report for 2010, which we did not have the opportunity to comment on and which includes a number of strange things that we do not agree with.”

One of the main points of contention in that report, Mr Ryšavý says, is the statement that the perpetrators of extremism in the Czech Republic are not only far-right and far-left but in some cases Roma organisations, too. Since the ethnicity of perpetrators of any sort is not registered in the Czech Republic, Romea says they do not understand what that conclusion is based upon. Moreover, the association contests that the 2010 report only publishes data regarding attacks involving anti-Semitism, but disregards attacks on Muslims, Vietnamese and Roma. In the previous year, the NGO had the opportunity to comment on the annual report and felt that its contribution was appreciated.

“This year, ever since the demonstration in Nový Bydžov, the ministerial workers have basically been laughing at us and saying that our comments have no weight. We also received a letter from the ministry officials after the demonstrations saying that if our website provides a space for opinions that are critical of the police and the Ministry of the Interior, then the ministry will reassess its collaboration with us. We see that kind of attitude as being absolutely unacceptable in a democratic society.”

The Interior Ministry for its part has only responded to these criticisms rather generally. A press release published Tuesday made several references to lies and mistruths publicised on the website, but specifically countered only certain marginal complaints. It also states that the task force essentially petered out on its own, thanks to a total lack of sensible and applicable ideas. Calls for further discussions, it says, have been ignored.