Anti-Roma activity

Anti-Roma activity on the rise

Gov’t moves to ban DS party amid surge of far-right movement

A political party best known for targeting the Roma community with frequent violent rhetoric and occasional physical violence faces possible abolition at the hands of the government, but vows to march on regardless.

The DS clashed with police and Roma in Litvínov Nov. 17, and vows to form a new party if dissolved.

The Czech Supreme Administrative Court is expected to rule on a potential ban for the right-wing Workers’ Party (DS) March 4, but the party leadership says the ruling is virtually irrelevant.

“The verdict will hopefully confirm that we have the same rights as everyone else in this democracy,” said party Chairman Tomáš Vandas. Should it not, “Very simply, we will form a new party. I do not want to pre-empt the ruling or give any details, but we are prepared for all outcomes.”

During the 2004 regional elections, the Workers’ Party garnered about 3,000 votes. By 2008, that number had climbed to more than 29,000, according to the NGO Tolerance and Civil Society, which monitors extremist groups.

“In several regions, they were more successful than the Green Party,” said Klára Kalibová, a lawyer with Tolerance. “They are getting some of the so-called ‘real’ Czech people.”

Gwendolyn Albert, a longtime Roma rights activist and director of the Women’s Initiatives Network of the Peacework Development Fund, noted a similar trend. “Times are bad, and people need a punching bag,” she said.

Activists point to increased cooperation between the DS and radical groups in neighboring countries. Kalibová says the party has also recently allied itself with the National Resistance – a right-wing group with overt neo-Nazi ties – adding that violence has since markedly increased.

Vandas says the DS is increasing cooperation with the Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (NDP), a successor to the German Reich Party, as well as the right-wing Slovenská pospolitosť in Slovakia. “As we grow, we will be able to focus on this more,” he said.

The Interior Ministry requested this fall that the government ban the DS, which it says violates the constitution in four major ways. Presently, the Interior Ministry is looking into a similar ban for the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM).

“The basis for a democracy is free competition for its political parties. On the other hand, it is also required of a democracy to have the power to protect itself from those who, under the screen of a political party, lobby for ideologies that are against the law and violate the rights and freedom of individuals,” said ministry spokeswoman Hana Malá.

In November 2008, a DS rally involving 600-700 radicals in Litvínov led to a violent clash with police.

Vandas denied that the group advocates violence, and, when asked where this perception comes from, said, “We are often portrayed as having close relations to right-wing workers’ groups and neo-Nazis, which is not correct.”

On Feb. 21, about 40 DP members distributed party pamphlets in Postoloprty, north Bohemia. The event was peaceful, and also saw Roma activists distributing literature.

Albert warned that local politicians are increasingly allying themselves with the DP. She points to recent events in Chomutov, where city officials teamed with a private collection agency to confront Roma as they came to pick up social benefits, all the while broadcasting the embarrassing scene on television.

While in support of banning the DP, Kalibová is not optimistic. “The government presents no serious legal argument,” she said, adding that legal grounds for banning the party do exist.

Confronted with the possibility of a ban spawning a new party of the same ideology under a different name, Kalibová responded, “What can you say? It is a battle between right and wrong.”

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