Aug 15, 2023

Roma Pushed to Turn on Ukrainian Refugees in Czech Republic

Prague Morning

Prague Morning

Ukrainian refugees gather in Prague's Old Town Square.

The murder of a Roma man alleged to have been committed by a Ukrainian person sparks angry protests against Ukrainian refugees in the Czech Republic.

Nicolas Dirda, a Roma man, was stabbed to death on June 10 on a tram in the Czech Republic as he travelled to a firework display at a lake just outside Brno.

The murder sparked angry protests among the Roma, a significant minority who number about 250,000 in the country.

Media reports pinned the murder on a Ukrainian person without any confirmation from police authorities.

Powered by rumour and fake claims of further crimes, a series of confrontations has followed. Roma are clashing with members of the group of 350,000 or so Ukrainian refugees that the Czech Republic has taken in since Russia’s President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Roma activists and government officials have called for the rejection of collective guilt, pointing out how the minority itself is victimised by the same process.

But the tension has continued to build.

Multiple episodes of violence and intimidation have been reported as radicalised sections of the Roma community claim that Ukrainian refugees are being handed social housing, benefits and school places that should go to Roma.

The government acutely acknowledges the urgency and delicacy of the current escalation, and a working group dedicated to addressing “prejudicial violence” has been launched.

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Despite some signs of progress in recent years, a majority of Czechs are still prepared to report (PDF in Czech) disdain for Roma.

This deep racism results in unequal access to housing, education, and jobs, leaving many Roma stuck in squalid ghettos and establishing a vicious circle that helps to confirm the bigotry.

These long-standing issues have helped make the populist political opposition’s narrative – that government support for Ukrainian refugees comes at the cost of locals – potentially potent for some in the community.

“Some Roma resent feeling weaker than the Ukrainians because refugees are generally perceived as a more vulnerable community,” suggests Marketa Kocmanova, an expert on radicalisation at Prague’s Charles University.

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