ROMA living in Šarišské Michaľany, a village in eastern Slovakia, were so fearful on Saturday August 8 that many chose to leave their homes to seek a safe hiding place before a rally planned by an ultra-right organisation. The protest organisers claimed that the Slovak majority population was experiencing ‘Roma terror’ but the protesters did not clash with Roma citizens but with police officers who dispersed the rally. Some political observers say that the support the protesters received by many Slovaks in the locality shows that this form of radicalism might grow in importance.
Police dispersed the protest rally, attended by about 200 people from Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary, apparently organised by the ultra-right civic organization Slovenská Pospolitosť in Šarišské Michaľany on August 8.
Rally had no permit
Slovenská Pospolitosť said that its protest was aimed against attacks by members of the Roma minority on local residents. During the previous weekend, two teenage boys from a Roma settlement allegedly beat up a 65-year-old man at the village’s football stadium. The assailants caused life-threatening injuries and the man’s recovery is expected to take a month and a half. The police have detained the alleged assailants, the SITA newswire reported.
In a speech at the local football stadium, Slovenská Pospolitosť leader Marián Kotleba said that the gathering should point at the inactivity of the current government of Robert Fico that is spending millions of euros on Roma but is not requiring them to respect the law in return.
The organisers failed to officially announce the rally to local authorities and the demonstration was illegal. The demonstrators originally planned a march through the village but the police forced them to remain at the football stadium.
The participants then refused to obey an order from the mayor of the village, Jozef Brendza, to disperse. Subsequently, the police detained Slovenská Pospolitosť leader Kotleba and another two leaders of the association. The crowd responded by throwing stones, glasses and bottles at the police officers who then used water cannons to disperse the participants, the Sme daily wrote.
Kotleba claimed that neither he nor Slovenská Pospolitosť organised the rally and therefore they did not announce it in written form to the local authorities, adding that by dispersing the gathering the police violated the citizens’ right to assemble, Sme wrote.
According to the police Kotleba identified himself as the organiser of the gathering when he spoke to the crowd and invited other people to also speak. By doing so the police said he violated the law by not having a permit and the police detained him along with him another 29 people. Two protesters and five police officers were injured during the intervention but none of the injuries required medical assistance.
Extremists garner support
Members of Slovenská Pospolitosť as well as some citizens of Šarišské Michaľany claimed that the police intervention was not proper.
“The police shouldn’t have intervened so harshly, those people [Pospolitosť sympathisers] weren’t doing anything wrong,” SITA wrote, quoting a woman from Šarišské Michaľany.
Political analyst Miroslav Kusý believes that the atmosphere in Slovakia at the moment is favourable to spreading radical ideologies. He said some citizens are disturbed because they live next to dilapidated Roma settlements where there is almost total unemployment, people living on the verge of hunger and committing crimes.
“The state is doing nothing about it, or it is doing too little – so little that people see it as insufficient and they are seeking help elsewhere,” Kusý told The Slovak Spectator, adding that in such an atmosphere extremist groups offering offensive but easy solutions can quite easily find followers.
“Then there is the danger that rabble will take the solution to social problems into their own hands that should be solved by the state through political solutions and power structures,” Kusý explained. “If the state isn’t doing it at all or is doing it insufficiently, it gives a chance to extremist groups.”
Kotleba wants a new political party
At the rally Kotleba criticized Ján Slota, chairman of the Slovak National Party (SNS), for failing to sufficiently protect the Slovak nation and said that a new, more nationalistic party should be created.
According to Kusý, such a party could be successful.
“Society is in crisis and groups living on the outskirts of society, such as the Roma, have to bear the worst consequences of the crisis,” he said. “The extremists see as the solution to the crisis the destruction of these groups who they claim are making the life of the majority harder.”
If a newly-created party began to draw voters away from the more mainstream nationalistic parties, such as SNS, those parties would then radicalise in order to keep voters, Kusý said.
KDS approach criticised
In the wake of the protest rally the head of the Conservative Democrats of Slovakia (KDS), Vladimír Palko, suggested that statistics on crimes committed by Roma living in Slovakia should be processed and released on a regular basis, SITA wrote.
Alexander Patkoló, chairman of the Roma Initiative of Slovakia (RIS), condemned Palko’s suggestion. He said the law already gives police this option and “by these statements he [Palko] de facto gives a green light to these skinhead and fascist groups”, the TASR newswire reported.
Statistical record-keeping of the ethnicity of criminals is an excessive step, Kusý said, because it uses the same logic as the extremists: marking and persecuting those who are blamed for everything wrong, in this case the Roma.
“In order to weaken the extremists the ultra-conservative politicians would use the very methods the extremists themselves use,” Kusý said. “But those methods remain illegal and it is not trying to solve the problems through the use of law.”