DENISE WILSON, an African-American basketball player from the United States who currently plays in Košice, was the victim of a racially-motivated attack in the eastern Slovak city on April 6. Wilson is rated among the best players on her team, Cassovia Košice, but is now said to be considering whether to leave the country.
It was the second racist attack on a public figure in Slovakia within a short period: on February 26, Grigorij Mesežnikov, a well-known political analyst and head of the non-governmental think-tank the Institute for Public Affairs, was attacked in the centre of Bratislava because of his Jewish origins.
According to Košice police spokesperson Jana Demjanovičová, Wilson, who is 25 years old and 1.83 metres tall, went to meet a friend in the city. At a tram stop two men with shaved heads and wearing camouflage-style clothes started to harass her. As she tried to explain that she didn't speak Slovak, they called her a "nigger" and told her to go home. She tried to escape but the men chased her from Osloboditeľov Square to a McDonald's in Protifašistických Bojovníkov Street swearing at her and threatening her the whole way.
"She was calling for help, but people instead turned away from her," Alexander Farkašovský, the president of the basketball team, told the media.
"I am not a timid person but I was really scared, and I am still scared," Wilson told the TV channel Markíza.
To defend herself, she picked up a chair in the restaurant and used it to fend off her attackers. After a while, the restaurant manager intervened.
"She was not injured," Demjanovičová told The Slovak Spectator.
But Farkašovský, who as a former lawyer is also representing Wilson, said: "She has been in complete shock since Sunday."
The manager of the restaurant pushed the two men away and police arrived after a few minutes. The attackers were detained.
Twenty-seven-year old Ivan S. and 21-year old Karol M. were accused of inciting racial hatred.
"[If convicted] they face a sentence of up to three years for this crime," Demjanovičová told The Slovak Spectator. She added that no new facts have so far arisen in the case.
The judge of the Košice court agreed on April 9 that the suspects be held in custody, according to a spokesperson for the Regional Court in Košice, Marcela Gálová, as reported by the SITA newswire. She said they were being held because of the danger that they might commit further acts of violence. Moreover, Karol M. has no permanent residence, and the judge therefore fears that he might try to flee or hide in order to avoid prosecution.
Ivan S. already has three convictions for violent crime, and racially-motivated violence. Karol M. is currently being prosecuted for having attacked a citizen who is member of the Roma minority.
"The attack on this young American woman was not, therefore, accidental," Milan Filičko, spokesperson for the Regional Prosecutor in Košice, told the daily Sme. "They were absolutely intent on endangering her. They also clearly showed their minds during questioning by police. They say they regret nothing."
"I feel sorry that two scoundrels are able to ruin the good reputation of Košice, which is known for its tolerance," said Farkašovský.
Wilson herself told the public broadcaster Slovak Television: "I do not want to change my opinion concerning Slovakia and Slovaks, and I do not condemn anyone."
Wilson comes from South Carolina and has played basketball for Mississippi University, and in leagues in Finland, Germany and Switzerland.
"I played in America, and in Germany, but I have never experienced anything like this. I cannot judge [a nation] by one single person," Wilson stressed for the news TV channel TA3 on April 7.
A day later she told Markíza: "I do not want to change my opinion about Slovakia, but I am forced to wonder whether I will [be able to] go anywhere alone."
On March 7, The Police Presidium reported on racially-, or ethnically-motivated crimes investigated in 2007.
Last year, police registered 155 crimes with a racial motivation, 33 less than in 2006. Of these, 97 crimes were successfully investigated. Twenty-two crimes were committed by people who were drunk, and 14 by minors under 15 (five more than in 2006). Young people under 18 committed 39 crimes, an increase of eight.
Most crimes took place in the Bratislava Region (31), followed by Banská Bystrica Region (26), and Žilina Region (21).
The fewest such crimes were committed in the east of Slovakia: 13 in Prešov Region, and 10 in Košice Region. Paradoxically, though, it was in Košice that this latest attack took place.