Attacks on minorities spark outcry

TWO racially-motivated assaults on minorities in Slovakia in a span of four days have activists and protesters calling on the government to do more to fight racist attacks.
A black British skateboarder, Rodney Clarke, was beaten in the western Slovak city of Trnava on August 24. And a Roma couple was beaten on the way home from a funeral in Detva, in central Slovakia, on August 28.

TWO racially-motivated assaults on minorities in Slovakia in a span of four days have activists and protesters calling on the government to do more to fight racist attacks.

A black British skateboarder, Rodney Clarke, was beaten in the western Slovak city of Trnava on August 24. And a Roma couple was beaten on the way home from a funeral in Detva, in central Slovakia, on August 28.

The Roma woman said she and her husband were attacked in the evening as they returned home from her father-in-law's funeral.

"They started shouting at us that Romas were coming, then they hit me in the face and started kicking my husband," Mária, who did not want to give her last name, told The Slovak Spectator.

The attackers injured her nose and it started bleeding, so the couple went to the emergency doctor. Someone there notified the police, she said.

Police then asked the couple to follow them to the Kelt pub, near the scene of the attack, to show them the attackers, Mária said. The offenders were not there, so the police sent the couple home.

The officers said they were sent to another case, she said.

Mária Candráková of the People Against Racism organisation accused police of mishandling the case.

"I do not consider it normal for a policeman to bring a beaten person to a bar, and if the attackers are not there, send the person away, saying, 'I will not do anything unless you point out the attacker for me with your finger,'" she told the Sme daily. "If the police were working in a normal way, there would be a record of the first interrogation."

Mária said she and her husband are still on sick leave.

"I have a problem with my nose, and my husband has injured ribs," she said.

Police accused one man Marcel D., 30, in the attack, and charged him with disorderly conduct.

According to police, it was not a racially-motivated attack.

In Trnava, Clarke said he was attacked by skinheads when he visited a local bar with friends. They poured beer on him and spit on him, he said.

The bar's security staff helped him, but the skinheads waited for him in the parking lot. They shouted at him, and when he was getting into a taxi with his friends, they broke the handle off the car door, he said.

Police started investigating the case as an attack, but they later claimed Clarke was the attacker.

"All the provocations were incited by the foreigner," said regional police spokesperson Martina Kredatusová.

Candráková told The Slovak Spectator that the Slovak Police have become indifferent to racially-motivated crimes.

"At the scene of the crime, police sometimes do not investigate the racial motive," she said.

She added that in recent investigations, police have often turned the victim into the offender.

"The whole situation causes people who are attacked to have a big mistrust towards the police, so they often do not even notify them," Candráková said.

Interior Minister Róbert Kaliňák does not agree. He said the police do enough, and they did so in these cases, too.

He also said Clarke was not the victim of the attack, but rather provoked it.

"The same equality that people have in rights also exists in duties," he said. "Are we under the impression that those who have a different skin colour cannot commit a crime? And cannot do some rioting? And that their reaction to alcohol is different than that of someone with another skin colour?

"Or when there is a conflict between different races, does it always necessarily mean there is a racial undercurrent?"

People Against Racism organised a protest on September 5 in front of the Interior Ministry building, because it says Kaliňák's ministry does not pay enough attention to racially-motivated attacks and extremism.

The group also claimed that ministry representatives do not co-operate with them.

Candráková said there are many ways to improve the situation.

"In the first place, it would definitely help to re-organise the police force, improve the activities of the Interior Ministry - and especially their actions in this matter, have policemen that specialise in the area of neo-Nazism, be more effective at solving internet crime, strengthen the patrols in the town streets, and renew police prevention measures," she told The Slovak Spectator.

The Interior Ministry rejected that criticism.

"But we do have the door open for negotiations 24 hours a day, and we will continue this in the near future," Kaliňák said.

He said non-governmental organisations are also invited to prepare a new law aimed at fighting racism.

"In some cases, they have even submitted proposals for this law that we accepted," he said.

Kaliňák said it's sometimes difficult to please everyone where this matter is concerned.

"If the statistics were decreasing, some people would say the police might be hiding something," he said. "If they were increasing, the increasing number of attacks would be alarming."

But statistics on racially-motivated attacks in Slovakia show that the number has indeed been rising in recent years.

According to the European Union's annual report on racism and xenophobia in its member states, published in March 2006, Slovakia had a general increase in the number of racial crimes reported from 2000 to 2005.

But analysing trends based on the report's statistics must be done with caution, the report warns.

"Consideration first needs to be given to the fact that member states that report consistently low actual figures - such as Denmark, Ireland or Slovakia - can report dramatic upward or downward trends on the basis of a few cases," it said.

"As an example, Slovakia went from 35 recorded crimes in 2000 to 121 in 2005 - a difference of 86 - which is reported as an overall mean average percentage increase of 43.1 percent for the period 2000-2005."

According to an Interior Ministry report, there were 188 hate crimes - motivated by race or other factors - last year, which was 67 more than in 2005.

In an editorial for the Sme daily on September 3, Tom Nicholson wrote that racism in Slovakia is "a dark closet that is rarely opened.

"Slovaks stoutly resist the idea that their society is prejudiced against oriental, black or Roma people, but at the same time one still hears epithets like 'šikmooká' ('slant-eye') or 'opica' ('monkey'), and 'jokes' such as, 'I'm not racist, but I hate gypsies/Jews/etc.,'" he wrote.

"Racism is like the elephant in the living room that everyone sees but no one acknowledges. It is thus not surprising that the country has developed a kind of institutional blindness where racism is concerned."

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