On August 30, the day after I left the Czech Republic, mass murder, the largest in Czech and Slovak history since World War II, was committed by a machine gun-wielding man on a rampage in the Slovak capital of Bratislava. The armed man killed seven and wounded fifteen, including a small child, before fatally shooting himself. Six of those murdered were members of a Romani family.
As the New York Times reports, “the killings shook the country and resonated with Europe’s growing xenophobia against Roma, or Gypsies.”
The motives behind the tragedy will take some time to investigate, but how the events continue unfolding, in particular the public discourse taking place, is as deeply troubling as was the attack itself.
Countless contributors to public forums argue the horrific act was justified and “worthy of repetition.” This is in line with the tone I have commonly found present in discussions of Roma-related news coverage on the internet where members of the majority often claim only negative experiences with the Roma and throw around racist stereotypes and slurs, sometimes even violent suggestions for how to deal with the “Romani problem.”
Some online discussion contributors have even expressed empathy for the murderer, “diagnosing” him as a man whose “nerves were shot” by too many bad experiences with his Romani neighbors.
On the Slovak website, People Against Racism, Gregory Fabian, a New York-based human rights lawyer, writes:
Everybody in Slovakia should check his or her own reaction to yesterday’s incident. Everyone should ask himself: Am I convinced that this attack can be justified? Do I think that it was not a case of a racially motivated attack without weighing all the evidence first? If the majority of non-Roma answer yes to one or both questions, the future for the Romani communities in Slovakia looks very bleak and the chance of reoccurrence of similar situations thus increases.
According to Peter Pollak, chief of staff of the Slovak Commission on Romani Affairs, the danger of violence between the majority and Romani minority looms large. “All responsible people must do everything in their power to make sure the situation does not worsen in the future,” he said.
Another blogger on Rasizmus.sk warns about the larger and dangerous societal aftermath of the massacre:
Whether the attack was racially motivated will be decided based on a thorough police investigation. In this moment, racially motivated are namely the discussions taking place at Slovak computers. Ethnicity has become literally the justification for the murder, legitimizing any and all hateful or excessively and senselessly violent attacks against the Romani community. We thereby express our deep sympathy to all the victims regardless of their lifestyle or color of their skin.
Slovakia. I was just there recently, visiting with the residents of a so-called “socially excluded” Romani community. Slovakia, where most of the Roma in the Czech Republic have their roots. Slovakia, which used to be part of Czechoslovakia until 1993. The shock wave, caused by this crime as well as the disturbing reaction of a portion of the public, knows no borders.
September 3, 2010 update: Apparently, it has just surfaced that only two of the victims of the massacre were Romani. However, that still does not change the fact that the initial reaction to the mass murder, when most of the victims were assumed to be Romani, on public forums was so often that of empathy for the murderer & justification of violence against the Roma. Such responses should serve as impetus to remain vigilant about future violence and press for more proactive ways to combat poverty, social exclusion, segregation, unemployment, racism and extremism in the region.
Posted By Tereza Bottman
Posted Aug 31st, 2010