The northern Czech region of Ústí nad Labem is in an uproar, with citizens opposing the organized influx of Roma -- whom they hold responsible for mounting crime -- and radical-right extremists taking advantage of the heated situation.
On recent weekends, the radicals have traveled from Prague and other parts of the country to give incendiary speeches and yell slogans such as The Czech Republic is for the Czechs Gas the Gypsies! The reference to killing the Roma by gas chambers is particularly vile, with estimates of between 500,000 and 1.5 million exterminated by the Nazi regime during World War II.
Roma areas have been cordoned off by police who use water cannons and tear gas if necessary. There are regular tussles and arrests.
The Roma have made their way here from the outskirts of Prague, where their rented living space was bought by real estate developers. So far their housing space has been rent-free, although normally they are charged exorbitant rents. Some who cannot find work -- there are few jobs for the largely illiterate Roma -- turn to crime. The Roma are in a vicious circle from which they cannot escape, says sociologist Ivan Gabal.
Crime has risen in the area since the arrival of the Roma, and white Czechs are now afraid to let their children go to school unaccompanied. The situation exploded when 20 machete-wielding Roma attacked six white Czechs in a disco.
Locals were also piqued that for weeks, nobody in the federal government seemed to take notice of the situation. A first visit by Czech Premier Petr Necas only came last week. He announced a plan to make people more employable by raising the number of years of mandatory schooling for all Czechs, including Roma. But the changes arent set to go into effect until 2015. Roma who do not send their children to school will lose social benefits, he also warned.
Critics of the measure say that what Roma children need is to be taught Czech, a language many do not speak. Until now, Roma children who attend school go to special schools that they leave early because theyre under pressure to join the criminal milieu that enables Roma to make ends meet.
Necas also stated that the special police forces would for the time being stay in the area, a measure supported by Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who favors a hard line against the violence. Meanwhile, radical right wingers are using the Internet to organize demonstrations in other Roma ghettos around the country.
Read the full story in German by Hans-Jörg Schmidt
Photo - Anosmia