September 26, 2011

Roma minority struggle to find a place

In the Czech Republic, Roma clash with ethnic Czechs as unemployment and crime plague neighbourhoods.

The Northern Bohemia of the Czech Republic has been troubled by high unemployment, poverty, and a weak education system for years, and many of its estimated 300,000 Roma minority live in slums. Nearly 50 percent of Roma may be currently unemployed or living in poverty, based on 2008 statistics collected by the World Bank.

The “Worker’s Party for Social Justice” (known as DSSS in Czech), is the successor party to an alleged neo-Nazi group that was banned last year by the highest Czech court. Along with other right-wing nationalist groups, they are voicing opposition to the Roma minority in the Czech Republic, blaming Roma for crime and overcrowding due to migration.

On Aug 7 in the Northern Bohemia town Nový Bor, a group of Romani men entered a bar allegedly armed with clubs and machetes and, according to local reports, attacked several patrons in retaliation for an assault on Roma youth earlier that night.

In mid-August, a Czech nationalist group organized a demonstration via Facebook in response to a bar fight that allegedly took place between ethnic Czechs and Roma youth. The organisation, called Bezpečí Domova or “Homeland Security” in Czech, protested what they say is the state’s failure to provide security.

Later that month, on August 21, a group of 20 Roma men in Rumburk assaulted six Czech's leaving a disco around 5am.

The central government has responded by beefing up its presence in the region. Around 600 additional police officers have been sent to quell the unrest. Czech President Vaclav Klaus has called on police to “mercilessly” bring an end to violence.

The Czech government recently adopted an official “Strategy for Fighting Social Exclusion,” with measures to prevent the creation of new Roma slums in the country. The strategy also intends to improve education, employment, housing and security in Roma neighbourhoods.

Prague-based human rights activist Gwendolyn Albert joins the show via Skype to discuss Roma rights and the recent uptick in violence between the Czech Republic’s ethnic minority and majority. Roma musician Radoslav Banga, commonly known as “Gipsy,” also joins us via Skype to discuss Roma rights in the country.

What do you think? Who's to blame for the latest flare up: Roma communities or the government? Tweet us with your comments using the hashtag #AJStream.

These are some of the social media elements featured in this episode of The Stream.