Community Update

Digital Empowerment Toolkit Now Available!

At World Pulse, we recognize the need for ongoing learning—for you and for your community! Our toolkits aim to provide the resources you need to advance your social change work.

We are excited to introduce our Digital Empowerment Trainers’ Toolkit, a dynamic resource to help you bring the benefits of connecting online to women in your community. Check it out today! »

In the heart of Europe, the beast of fascism rears its its ugly head, the Roma fear for their lives

With the horrors of Kristallnacht fresh on the minds of many, only days after the seventieth anniversary of the violent night that ushered in the Holocaust, it is evident that in the heart of Europe the beast of fascism is awake, rearing its ugly head again, causing some to be afraid for their lives.

Last year on the day of the Kristallnacht pogrom anniversary, some 400 Neo-Nazis were blocked from marching in Prague's Jewish Quarter by police and three thousand [1] anti-fascist activists who gathered in front of a Prague synagogue dedicated to the memory of some 77,000 Jewish victims of the Holocaust from the former Czechoslovakia.

This November, the commemoration on the anniversary of the Night of Broken Glass in Prague took place without any calamities. But the epicenter of recent neo-Nazi activity has shifted 70 miles northwest of Prague to the town of Litvinov where on October 18 and November 17 of this year, right-wing extremists staged large-scale, violent demonstrations, targeting the Roma minority. The Roma, like the Jews, had been targeted, deported and nearly exterminated in a genocide perpetrated by the Nazis during World War II. [2]

Today, all across Europe [3] and the U.S. [4] right-wing extremism and hate crime is on the rise.

On Monday, stones, firecrackers, bottle rockets, gas bombs, pepper spray and people's screams filled the air of Litvinov. A battle ensued between a thousand police in riot gear and seven hundred to fifteen hundred (depends on the source) right-wing extremists, waving Nazi flags and wearing Nazi arm-bands and colors. They shouted racist slogans and tried to incite the Roma to violence. The locals joined in, clapping, cheering and cursing the Roma. [5]. This was named the "toughest clash of police and far-rightists since 2000" in the Czech Republic. [6]

Where were the anti-facist and human activists last Monday? Only a handful of allies showed up to peacefully protest with the Litvinov Roma, though Green Peace [7] and Amnesty International [8] issued statements condemning the recent wave of extremist actions targeting the Roma.

In the Czech society [9], and in Europe as a whole [10], racism runs deep. So deep that Czech Roma community members and leaders have voiced fear that the demonstrations, which have so far been reigned in by the police who bore the brunt of the violence carried out by the extremists, could spill over and cause "mass killings of innocent people" in the minority communities. [11]

And the instigator, the Workers' Party, which the Czech prime minister Mirek Topolanek agrees should be dismantled [12], has promised to return to Litvinov with a vengeance, very possibly before the end of November. [13]

Though last year, the European Union's Parliament adopted a new resolution on combating the rise of extremism in Europe, [14], Roma rights activists have criticized the Czech government as well as the
European Union [15] for not condemning extremists' actions [16] and for not doing enough to address the needs of the Roma communities across the continent.

Study after study has shown that the approximately 9 million Roma living in the 27 countries of the European Union suffer widespread poverty, social exclusion, poor health, low educational levels and high unemployment. [17] The Czech Republic, it must be noted, is the only one of all the EU states that has yet to implement an anti-discrimination law. Such law is required by an EU directive. However, last May, President Václav Klaus vetoed the government-proposed anti-discrimination bill, with the words: "I consider the proposed bill useless, counterproductive and low-quality." [18]. There has been no follow-up on the bill since other than the European Commission threatening to file a lawsuit or impose a high fine on the Czech government for failing to adopt anti-discrimination legislation. [19]

Numbers of watchdogs and prominent political figures warn that the situation is only bound to get worse as the recession deepens and unemployment skyrockets. [20, 21] Some have even speculated that "Eastern Europe's slavish appropriation of neoliberalism is leading to a big increase in extreme rightwing crime." [22].

What is needed, says Cyril Koky, member of the government council for Romany affairs, is "for the Roma to be able to work." [23]

"The government should, for instance, institute tax incentives for businesses willing to hire so-called problematic citizens (as the Roma are often referred to)." Koky went on to say that he believes
affirmative action laws would be effective in combatting inequality. Though the "regional governments are the ones who bare the main responsibility for improving the situations in the ghettos," Koky said, "the state government body should work on changing the laws to make it more difficult for extremists to assemble." [24]

The Council of the Regional Roma Representatives (GRRP), however, urges that the situation is so dire that lofty ideas about what the Czech Republic should do to better the situation of the Roma regarding education, housing, and employment have become secondary. "It is of utmost importance now," they say in their statement regarding the November 17 extremist provocation, "that the Czech state prevent the massacring of Roma children, women and men."[25]

"For the Roma population, the 17th of November marked the collapse of all human rights and civil liberties that are possible in a civilized society and guaranteed to all human beings. In the Czech Republic, anti-Roma sentiment has turned into a life threat." [26]


1. - "Neo-Nazis fail to march through Prague's Jewish Quarter,: Czech Radio, November 12, 2007

2. - "Holocaust," Wikipedia

3. - "New Report Finds Hate Crimes on the Rise in Many Parts of Europe," Human Rights First, June 6, 2007

4. - "The Year in Hate," Southern Poverty Law Center, Spring 2007

5. - "Lidé neonacistům tleskali. A bude hůř, soudí odborník na extremismus,", November 18, 2008

6. - "CzechRep sees toughest clash of police, far-rightists since 2000,", November 17, 2008

7. - "Czechs Greens want govt to discuss extremists' actions," Roma Rights Network, October 30, 2008

8. - "CZECH ANTI-ROMA DEMONSTRATORS CLASH WITH POLICE," Amnesty International, November 19, 2008

9. - "Czech Romanies' position on society margins not changing much,", November 10, 2008

10. - "The European Union and Roma," European Commission.

11. - "Czech Republic faces great civic disturbances-Romany activist ,", November 19, 2008

12. - "PM Topolánek to back up ban of Workers' Party,", November 19, 2008

13. "Neonaciste hrozi dalsimi akcemi," Pravo newspaper, Zpravodajstvi section, page 5, November 20, 2008

- "European Parliament resolution of 13 December 2007 on combating the rise of extremism in Europe," European Parliament, December 13, 2007

15. - "EU criticized at first European Roma summit,", September 17, 2008

16. - "Czech Republic faces great civic disturbances-Romany activist,", November 19, 2008

17. - "Studies and reports on discrimination-related issues," European Commission, July 2008

- "Klaus vetoes crucial anti-discrimination bill," The Prague Post Online, May 28, 2008

19. - "Debate on Czech anti-discrimination law put off," Ceske noviny, October 21, 2008

20. - "Recession could spark rise in crime and extremism," Reuters UK, September 1, 2008

21. "Clen vladni rady Koky: Hrozi obcanske nepokoje," Pravo newspaper, Zpravodajstvi section, page 5, November 20, 2008

22. - "Grave errors," Guardian UK, May 7, 2007

23. "Utoku na Romy bude pribyvat," iDnes newspaper, page A5, November 20, 2008

24. ibid

25. - "GRRP: Český stát musí zabránil masakrování romských dětí, žen a mužů,", November 19, 2008

26. ibid


Dave Alexander's picture

Smiling Amidst the Horror

Welcome TeachGirl,

On my computer, your photograph is very dark. I copied it to my hard drive, opened it in a photo editor, and lightened it. I don't know why; it just felt like something was in there. Beneath the shadow there was a beautiful smile. I thought I saw a hint of quiet innocence and joy too. I felt suddenly blessed.

Hatred is an arbitrary thing. Someone hates Roma, another a Jew, another a woman, another a gay... It makes no sense to me that we consistently and energetically focus on our differences to the sacrifice of our morality. Hate appears uniquely human. How did we catch the disease, why are we so engaged by it, and what will be its remedy?

Those who hate are willing to oppress, kill, and massacre; yet they have never stopped love, joy, laughter, or smiles. These must be, therefore, the remedy. I believe the Voice of the Feminine Spirit carries the remedy. We must make our garden more suitable for those with a strong feminine voice to thrive.

Thank you for sharing the challenge of the Roma people, and thank you for sharing the remedy -- a voice with an ever present smile, even if sometimes in shadow.

In Friendship, Dave...

"You must be the change you wish to see in the world."
-- Mohandas K. Gandhi

jadefrank's picture

The Roma

Thank you for sharing with us this well organized, researched and thought provoking essay on the issue of racism and the plight of the Roma people in the Czech Republic. Personally, I find this so interesting because I have visited your country several times, spending time with Czech friends there. Time and time again, I would come away from my visit convinced that Czech people were among the friendliest and most inviting I have ever met.

Last year a friend moved to Prague to take a TEFL course and then teach English. One day he was walking down the street at night with his guitar on his way to a friend's house and was attacked, beaten badly and had his guitar smashed by Neo-Nazis because of the color of his skin (he is African-American). He was hospitalized for a week to recover from his injuries. I was shocked and horrified by this as it went against my preconceptions of the Czech Republic as such a friendly and inviting place.

I was not familiar with the Roma people of your country. So thank you for sharing their story and their struggle. I hope that President Václav Klaus and his administration can answer to the call of the EU to implement an anti-discrimination law. It's sad to think of such a beautiful country with generous people struggling and falling behind the rest of the EU in this important issue. No one deserves to be discriminated against, especially within the borders of their own country.

Warm Regards,

teachergirl's picture

why I write here

Dear Dave,

I am here to help right wrongs by writing about them and to help raise awareness about important issues. I am not here for other people to scrutinize photos of me (and manipulate them on their computers to take a better look at me) or to complement my looks. Because of your comments, I am removing my image from my profile.

To support the writing and thinking of the women who contribute to this site, instead of commenting on their looks and "pretty smiles," it would be more helpful, if you, being a male, focused on the issues and on specific ideas about what can be done to bring about social justice and equality you say you want to see. Please consider what I said before you comment on this site again.


teachergirl's picture

thank you!

Thank you, Jade for sharing your thoughts and the story of your friend, which I found truly horrifying. It is so difficult to see so much racism and its evil cousin indifference in a country where I was raised. Sometimes I feel hopeless about whether it is possible to change this. I wonder if a civil rights movement, unique to this environment, is possible here. What keeps my hope alive is that it has happened in other places around the world. It is definitely long overdue here.

jadefrank's picture

Keep the hope alive

I don't think that the cause for non-discrimination in the Czech Republic is hopeless. I sense that within time, a civil rights movement as you mentioned could make an impact. I live in the United States, a land where African Americans were not long ago slaves. And in our more recent history of 50 years, discrimination against blacks in the United States was widely practiced and accepted. Now, we have just elected the first black president of our country, proving that within time, people can change their minds and their hearts to break away from the confines of prejudice. It just takes time and determination. Keep the hope alive and let us know here on PulseWire how we can join in helping your cause.

Warm regards,

Magazine »

Read global coverage through women's eyes

Inside Congo's Growing Sisterhood

Inside Congo's Growing Sisterhood

Community »

Connect with women on the ground worldwide

PAKISTAN: They Went to School and Never Came Back

PAKISTAN: They Went to School and Never Came Back

Campaigns »

Be heard at influential forums

WWW: Women Weave the Web

WWW: Women Weave the Web

Programs »

Help us train women citizen journalists

World Pulse Voices of Our Future

World Pulse Voices of Our Future

Blog »

Read the latest from World Pulse headquarters

Announcing Our Prize Winners!

Announcing Our Prize Winners!

Partners »

Join forces with our wide network of partners

Nobel Women's Initiative

Nobel Women's Initiative