Anti-Roma Violence Surges in Central Europe

At least seven Roma have been murdered and dozens of Roma homes firebombed in a wave of ethnically motivated violence sweeping across Central Europe, law enforcement officials and international human rights organizations are reporting.

Far-right political leaders in countries like Hungary and the Czech Republic have fostered an increasingly hostile atmosphere toward Roma by using them as scapegoats in a time of rising economic turmoil. Anti-Roma propaganda capitalizes on age-old stereotypes of Roma — a widely oppressed minority group commonly known as Gypsies — as itinerant petty criminals and parasites on social welfare systems.

Last April 4, a march by about 100 racist skinheads through a Roma neighborhood in Prerov, a town in the Olomouc region of the Czech Republic, erupted into bloodshed when the skinheads clashed with police and Roma counter-demonstrators.

The following day, about 20 members of the National Party, a right-wing extremist group in the Czech Republic, gathered outside a former World War II-era labor camp where 3,000 Roma perished during the Holocaust to celebrate the publication of a Roma-bashing book by National Party member Jiří Gaudin. Titled The Final Solution of the Gypsy Question in Czech Lands, the book calls for the Czech government to cut welfare programs for Roma citizens and use the money saved to fund the forced deportation of all Roma to India.

Less than a week after the National Party rally, a small Roma child and her parents were severely burned when assailants firebombed their home in the Czech town of Vitkov.

The worst anti-Roma violence, however, has taken place in Hungary, where at least 30 Roma homes have been attacked with Molotov cocktails in recent months. The attackers usually wait outside to spray their victims with gunfire as they flee the burning structures. Last February, for example, a Roma man and his 4-year-old son were gunned down as they tried to escape from the flames consuming a home in Tatarszentgyorgy, a small town south of Budapest.

The Hungarian Guard, a paramilitary group associated with the far-right Hungarian political party Jobbik, routinely holds marches to protest "Gypsy crime" in Roma neighborhoods where homes have recently been firebombed.

Experts fear that if unemployment continues to rise, anti-Roma violence will intensify. As Lajos Korozs, a specialist in Roma issues for the government of Hungary, told The New York Times: "One thing to remember, the Holocaust did not start at the gas chambers."