Special unit takes lower profile as social protests shift to bigger cities
A special unit of riot police has been withdrawn from the north Bohemian town of Nový Bor amid concerns that they were doing more harm than good amid continued tensions between the minority Roma and majority white population, according to a City Hall source.
The move comes as public protests in regional towns fade but are seemingly making their way from small towns to larger cities, with one protest in Prague on Oct. 1st and another scheduled to take place in the regional north Bohemian city of Ústí nad Labem Oct. 8th.
“The local police can cope with the situation with their forces and own means,” a Police Presidium spokesman said of the decision to withdraw the riot unit.
Nový Bor Mayor Jaromír Dvořák (TOP 09) told the Czech News Agency (ČTK) that the change took him by surprise.
“No one sent any word, and now they’re gone,” he said Sept. 30. “The [local] police patrols will only be reinforced on nights and weekends.”
Deploying the specially trained riot police cost some 890,000 Kč per day, according to Police Presidium spokesman Jan Melša.
“The most costly aspect is naturally the policemen’s wages,” he said while speaking to TV Nova.
Interior Ministry officials said they are looking for ways to bolster the police budget amid the unexpected costs.
In another north Bohemian town, Rumburk, Roma patrols of their community seemingly proved successful in helping to quell tensions, but a proposal from the Roma community to stage joint patrols with the police department has been rejected by city leaders.
“On the contrary, we want [the Roma] to actively integrate their children into child groups, starting with kindergartens,” Deputy Mayor Ladislav Pokorný (Social Democrats) told ČTK.
Jan Demeter, who touts himself as the leader of Rumburk’s Roma community, called the decision not to stage joint patrols “a pity,” but the perceived success of the earlier patrols has led officials in Varnsdorf to say they are also considering Roma-led patrols of their community.
In August, two assaults on whites by members of the Roma minority were the flashpoint for weeks of protests in the towns of Varnsdorf, Nový Bor, Šluknov, and Rumburk. But roots of the problem run much deeper, as real estate profiteers have sought to take advantage of state social housing subsidies, spurring an influx of mostly unemployed Roma in recent months.
“The Ústí region began intentionally moving Gypsies from Most into the Šluknov area,” said one resident, who declined to be named.
In several towns, the same pattern has repeated, with vacant buildings being converted into dormitory-style living and landlords able to directly collect subsidies for providing housing to the socially disadvantaged.
Demonstrations in the towns continue, but appear to be losing steam. There was a pair of demonstrations in north Bohemia Oct. 2, one drawing about 50 people in Rumburk, and 150 people turned out in Varnsdorf. Both events came off without incident, and there are indications that public frustration may be shifting from blaming the Roma minority to blaming elected officials.
In a late September rally in Varnsdorf, demonstrators marched on the home of Deputy Mayor Josef Poláček (Civic Democrats). Previous rallies were followed by marches toward housing projects primarily occupied by Roma.
In Ústí nad Labem, a protest is poised to go ahead Oct. 8.
“We support the rights of decent citizens, irrespective of the color of their skin, and we wish that the situation, which has not yet assumed the dimensions like in the Šluknov area, will be solved quickly and for the long term,” reads the announcement for the protest.
In a move that echoes earlier efforts to capitalize on the racial tensions, a spokesman for the extreme right-wing Workers Party for Social Justice said that the party would also participate in the demonstration.
– Filip Šenk and Klára Jiřičná contributed to this report.