Praha/Budišov, 19.4.2014 19:12, (ROMEA)
News server ČT24.cz reports that 19 April marks five years from the moment when four right-wing extremists used Molotov cocktails to attack a home occupied by a Romani family in the Czech town of Vítkov. The perpetrators of the attack are behind bars for now.
The person who suffered the greatest punishment that fateful night was Natálie, who is now six years old. She will live with the repercussions of the burns she suffered for the rest of her life.
How is her family doing five years after the horrifying attack? „It’s impossible to forget it,“ says Anna Siváková, her mother.
Three people suffered injury in the attack on the Romani family’s home, but Natálie, who was not quite two years old at the time, was the worst injured. As an infant she suffered burns over 80 % of her body.
Even though doctors never gave her much hope of survival, she managed it, which is considered a miracle by both experts and those close to her. In the five years since the attack on her family she has undergone 17 larger operations and dozens of smaller ones, and her body will be marked forever by what happened.
Natálie has lost three fingers on one of her hands. It is hard for her to hold a pencil, and her mother is concerned about how she will handle school when she starts there in September.
Doctors are nevertheless pleased with the results of her treatment to date. „Basically, a little miracle has been managed. Back then no one could imagine that she might ever lead a normal life,“ Iva Zámečníková of the Burn Center at the Ostrava Teaching Hospital told news server ČT24.cz.
The family, however, says it is still unthinkable that they might one day have fully coped with the ramifications of the attack. „We do our best to forget it, but even though it was five years ago, we can’t. I think about it during the day and in my dreams,“ Anna Siváková says.
Their mother says that fateful night has also influenced the family’s older children, who escaped the attack without injury, and that another daughter has decided to study legal and social work so she can help others. „The attack affected her greatly, that’s why she wants to take that path,“ her mother says.
Natálka going to nursery school
The six-year-old who was so seriously burned five years ago is slowly beginning to live a normal life. After many operations, she is now in her second year of nursery school and getting ready for primary school this fall.
„She is not at all aware that she is a burn victim. She just keeps asking where her missing fingers are,“ her mother told the Czech News Agency recently.
Natálka has been attending nursery school on a regular basis. However, she has recently had problems sleeping and has stayed home.
„She’s not been sleeping at night for about three months now. It’s probably related to the fire. A psychologist has visited us but she doesn’t speak to him. She doesn’t talk to strangers,“ the girl’s mother said.
Natálka has a big change ahead of her this September when she starts first grade. „We have no idea how she’s going to handle it. We are in touch with the primary school she will go to. The teachers will come visit us prior to her starting there. She has to get used to school,“ her mother added.
Natálka reportedly has many operations ahead of her this fall as well. „They will repair her mouth, neck and underarms,“ her mother said.
The family has moved out of Vítkov to the town of Budišov nad Budišovkou. They avoid visiting the place where they survived the arson.
„When we need to manage our affairs we go into Vítkov. I avoid the place where we used to live,“ she said.
After the fire, only ruins were left of the family’s little house. Technical services have done away with what was left of the building and now a pile of rubble is the only thing remaining there.
The plot of land belongs to several owners and is currently being taken care of by the town. „We have the grass cut there a few times a year. The owners live in Germany. We have asked them to transfer title to the town, but we weren’t successful. They don’t take care of the place at all. We hope to eventually succeed in acquiring the land,“ Mayor of Vítkov Pavel Smolka said.
The four arsonists have been sentenced to prison in the meanwhile. Václav Cojocaru and Ivo Müller were sentenced to 20 years, while Jaromír Lukeš and David Vaculík are serving 22 years.
The arsonists have appealed for sentence reductions, including to the Supreme Court. Miroslava Sedláčková, spokesperson for the Czech Constitutional Court, says their verdicts have not yet taken full effect because of the tactics employed by the convicts and their lawyers.
The legal team has charged the presiding justice at the Czech Constitutional Court, Pavel Rychetský, with prejudice in respect to the case. Addressing such objections has delayed the entire proceedings.
The case is now heading to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Sedláčková says the Czech justice system is waiting to see how that appeal will end up.
„We are glad the sentences are long and I would be glad if they remained that way, because we have been condemned to much more suffering than they have. Natálka, mainly, is suffering a lifelong sentence of her own. They must serve time for what they did,“ Anna Siváková told ČT24.cz.
Irrespective of how the court imbroglio ends up, the family is still living in constant fear. They are afraid an attack against them could be repeated at any time.
„We do not feel safe. What’s going on around us, the way [the right-wing extremists] are going everywhere, the way they’re organizing demonstrations here, I believe it is definitely not safe for us in the Czech Republic,“ Anna Siváková told ČT24.cz.
The most recent report of the Security Information Services (Bezpečnostní informační služby – BIS) shows that her concerns could be appropriate. Even though there have been fewer anti-Romani events in recent months, others could erupt in troubled regions on the slightest pretext at any time.
The following is a selection of other cases of racially motivated violence targeting Romani people in the Czech Republic that have been covered by the media:
24 September 1993 – A group of neo-Nazis attacked four Romani people in the town of Písek. In fear for their lives, the Roma jumped into the river Otava and were prevented from getting out of the water by the ultra-rightists. One victim, 17-year-old Tibor Danihel, drowned. In June 1999 three people were convicted of racially motivated murder and attempted murder in the case: Jaroslav Churáček (8 years 3 months), Zdeněk Habich (7.5 years) and Martin Pomije (6.5 years). All those convicted were minors at the time of the murder so the court could not sentence them to more than 10 years.
14 May 1995 – Four right-wing extremists violently broke into the home of a Romani family in the town of Žďár nad Sázavou. One assailant attacked a Romani man, Tibor Berki, with a baseball bat; Mr Berki succumbed to his injuries several hours later. The main figure in the case, Zdeněk Podrázský, was sentenced to 13 years. Martin Komár was sentenced to 20 months without the possibility of parole. Another two assailants, Jan Nevole and Jan Vosmek, were given suspended sentences of several months‘ duration.
17 January 1998 – A group of perpetrators threw a Molotov cocktail into the ground-floor apartment of a five-member Romani family in the town of Krnov. A 48-year-old woman suffered second and third-degree burns, while her partner was lightly injured. Police charged three youths with the attack. In 2002 a court sentenced Radek Bedr, a member of a neo-Nazi group, to two years in prison. His two accomplices were set free by the court for lack of evidence.
15 February 1998 – In Vrchlabí (Trutnov district), two drunken youths pushed a Romani woman, Helena Biháriová, into the Elbe River. The 26-year-old woman was pulled under by the current and drowned. Jiří Neffe, who had forced Bihári into the river, was convicted of extortion resulting in death and sent to prison for 8.5 years without the possibility of parole. Petr Klazar got 1.25 years in prison for rioting.
17 May 1998 – Four neo-Nazis attacked a Romani man and left him lying unconscious in the middle of the road in the town of Orlová-Lutyně (Karviná district). A car ran over him and the man died. Two assailants were convicted of grievous bodily harm resulting in death to one year and three years in prison without the possibility of parole respectively. Another two figures involved were put on probation, as was the driver who ran over the injured man.
21 July 2001 – At a discotheque in the town of Svitavy, neo-Nazi Vlastimil Pechanec stabbed a 30-year-old Romani man, Ota Absolon, to death. Pechanec got 17 years without the possibility of parole in the spring of 2003 for racially motivated murder.
Arson attacks and many other kinds of violence against Romani families have taken place in the intervening years, such as the examples in Býchory (Kolín district) in July 2011 and Krty (Rakovnice district) in August 2011.