Nový Bydžov: Collective Guilt and the Roma

Although media attention has focused on France’s treatment of the Roma, it is generally in Eastern European countries that prejudice and discrimination are most acute.  In the Czech town of Nový Bydžov, the Mayor, Pavel Louda, has issued an inflammatory declaration, entitled ‘Gypsies are raping, town prepares special measures’, following the alleged rape of a 21 year old woman and other more minor crimes.   The declaration contains passages such as these:

The citizens condemn all of these activities and do not want the Gypsies here – they want them to disappear, but how can this happen? The town’s hands are bound, particularly by state legislation which does not make radical measures possible – otherwise, the town would be sued for discrimination.

It is possible to accept that Roma may well (for various cultural, historical and demographic reasons) be disproportionately likely to commit crimes, and yet still condemn the collective blame heaped on the Roma by people like Louda.  The sinister resonances of his declaration have been noted by many.  A journalist, Patrick Banga, comments: ‘When I read the first sentence of the .pdf document on the town’s web page – to say nothing of the rest of it – I felt I was reading something from 1939’.

Sociologist Jiřina Šiklová raises similar concerns:

‘When a public official issues such a text, it really smells of fascism,’ she said, adding that Louda’s declaration reminds her of articles that were published in the magazine Aryan Struggle during the Nazi Protectorate. ‘During the Nuremberg trials the authors of such pieces were labeled Nazis or the minions of Nazi Germany. They were punished accordingly… If a mayor, or any individual paid from public funds, is a racist, he should be removed from office. What would be best would be if the citizens of that town who are not racists removed him from power,’ Šiklová said.

Roma residents and workers have expressed their frustration at being held responsible for crimes allegedly committed by individuals from the same ethnic group.

Roma residents contacted by Czech Television protested the mayor’s remarks. Štefan Mital, a Roma entrepreneur, responded to the mayor’s generalizations as follows: ‘One person raped that girl. I condemn that, and you cannot tar all of the Roma with the same brush.’ Mital was born in Nový Bydžov; now 33, he runs a construction business. He and his friends believe the mayor’s remarks have harmed the majority of Roma people who are law-abiding – and not just in Nový Bydžov.

Czech Television facilitated a meeting between Mayor Louda and the local Roma and filmed the results. ‘I work in a factory where that petition is being passed around… How do those people see me now?’ Roma resident Miroslav Oláh asked at the meeting.

Somehow Mayor Louda’s attempts to reassure such ‘good’ Roma are scarcely less chilling than his original denunciations: ‘I believe, and I am convinced of this, that whoever does his work properly will not be harmed,’ responded Mayor Louda.’

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