"Zuzana, this is your victory." Many people voiced this sentiment after the Regional Court came out with its ruling on 14 March 2001 in the case of Cyril Dunka, a Roma man from town of Žehra. That day, all inhabitants of the Romani settlement in Žehra were relieved.
On the one hand, sleepless nights and the trauma of a family missing their father came to an end. On the other, feelings of self-guilt—the result of the "Žehra ghost" that has haunted a community for the past five months evidently came to the surface in Slovakia. At first glance, what appeared to be a difficult fight for justice by someone who became a victim of police incompetence and a community's wickedness became the ambition of a young investigator, revealing the latent racism that is growing fast in Slovakia.
What happened? On 21 September last year, Cyril Dunka, a social worker, witnessed a fight in a Roma settlement. His wife Květoslava—called Kali—fought with her neighbor Renata Pokutová over their children. Both women defended the rights of their children to such an extent that they ended up ripping hair from one another's heads.
At that point Dunka came back from work. During this time he was the only employed person in the Roma settlement. As a social activist under the rubric of Slovakia's public beneficiary labor program, his job was to fill out NGO questionnaires concerning the social situation of Roma in the settlements. In this capacity, he repeatedly criticized Roma mothers for mishandling how they raised their children.
Dunka was especially concerned that some of them, with the consent of their parents, missed school on a regular basis. When he saw his wife fighting with their neighbor, he came over and asked them to stop, though Renata, angry about Dunka's earlier criticism about her children missing school, came to him and ripped his necklace off his neck.
An unlikely source of help
Cyril, sometimes called "Pope" was aware of the situation in his community. By nature a non-violent man, he went to inform the police about the incident. He didn't find anyone at the local police station in Spišské Vlachy, so Dunka decided to come back home. After a short talk with his relatives, he went again to the police station, where Renata Pokutová had reportedly already told her version of the story.
Much to the surprise of the Dunka family, a few days after the incident, police accused Cyril Dunka of stealing, usury and blackmail. Consequently, Cyril was put into custody in Levoča. The news about Dunka's confinement was reported in the Slovak media as a big victory for the police in the matter of usury in Roma settlements. This news also seemed, somehow, to illicit happiness amongst the non-Roma community.
No one looked at the background of the case. A particular Rom was accused here. No one seemed to notice that the case emerged after six EU countries imposed visa restrictions on Slovakia as a result of Roma migration. No one was interested in who Cyril Dunka is.
"I have known the family of Cyril Dunka for four years. I come here to have a rest. I found fantastic people here that I made a film about. I was also in the Roma settlement during the time of the incident in which Cyril Dunka spent five months in prison without a reason. During those months that were so difficult, I often asked myself if there is anything like justice," says Zuzana Brejcha, a filmmaker. She was the only person who did not doubt Cyril's innocence. Throughout the whole of Europe, through several months, Zuzana Brejcha sought help for Cyril.
She was shocked that in the moment when it was necessary to actively fight for Cyril there were no activists around. When she did pay a visit to one activist to seek help with legal assistance he told her, "I know that he is innocent, but usury exists and it is necessary to solve it in a complex way."
When she tried to emphasize that he is innocent, the activist just said that he does not have time for some "underclass little man" from a Roma settlement, because his diary is filled with big number of educational courses and seminars and conferences on Roma issues. And without him, and important Romani activists, the Roma problem will not be solved in Slovakia. "Our way to Europe should not be blocked by some Dunka," he concluded.
Zuzana, who is a foreigner without a deeper knowledge of the Slovak context, was shocked, but she did not give up. She wrote to all sides. And this is the way she made it to the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC). "I found the address on the Internet. I contacted them immediately and told them about the injustice to Žehra," said Zuzana. ERRC gave her a helping hand just as she had reached her breaking point.
Holding out for hope
Kali was also accused but was not put into custody because she had a small child. With three children, after Cyril's interrogation she went through hell. "It started to develop as a normal case, that you can find often in the Roma settlements. Imaginary accusations reported with the police and after that came blackmail, if you pay, your husband will come home," said Kali.
Very careful with her statements, Kali does not use names when talking about people who blackmailed her. "Why should we pay? We never caused harm to anyone. I refused any type of communication." With a bitter smile, she said, "The truth was on our side and I believed that it would win."
"When I married Cyril, we decided to leave our parents and live in our own house," Kali explains. "So we borrowed some money and we built this little house. Two rooms were enough for us, Cyril built the house with his own hands…" she makes clear.
"Cyril has been in a prison for five months now, but he is still present in the little house here. Often we ask, what would Cyril say about this? My mother Helena also loves her son-in-law. Cyril is an excellent man. He would not harm a fly. And some newspapers wrote that he was chasing the Pokovoa family with a gun through the settlement," she moans. "Why are they doing it?" she asks herself.
I interviewed her shortly after the hearing at the District Court in Spišská Nová Ves. It was two days (6-7 March) of an unbelievably grotesque situation, one hardly even imaginable in real life. The defense attorney, Krizalkovic, did not say much before the hearing and repeated constantly, "Truth is at the side of Cyril. Let's meet after the hearing."
After the hearing it became clear that someone tried to threaten the defense attorney with an accusation that he tried to influence the witnesses. "Maybe it was just a chance," Krizalkovic said later.
"I was talking to Kali, when Cyril Pokuta (a witness in the case) entered the room, requesting that the investigator question him again, because he wanted to change his testimony. I referred him to the investigator and forgot all about it. And suddenly, the investigator called me in for influencing the witnesses. This has not happened during my entire practice," he added bitterly. "I have known Cyril for a long time... When they told me that Cyril was in custody for usury, I did not have think for too long [before I] took the case. I knew instinctively that it was not true."
A botched investigation
The investigation in the preparatory hearing at the District Court could hardly be understood as a matter of chance. The tale of the original fight in the Roma settlement, which Pokovi and also Cyril confirmed, after a short while developed into accusations of blackmail and stealing. Those allegedly harmed testified immediately (6 March).
One witness after an another claimed that Cyril was innocent and that they did not borrow money from him. The judge Mgr Emil Klemanič expressed his doubts and warned the witnesses that they could be punished by three to eight years imprisonment for false testimony.
Again, the witnesses all said that they knew about this and then the judge asked why they did not tell the investigator. "We told the investigator, all of them said, but he was just writing into his book what he wanted and did not listen to us."
"And why did you sign the protocol, when all the facts here are not true?" the judge countered. The Roma explained that they did not know how to read and write. The judge remained speechless.
The best part of the whole hearing was the testimony of the main accuser Renata Pokutová. Before she was given a word, court expert Dr Jozef Kandala said that the "intellectual capacity of Renata Pokutová is at a medium-level of mental retardation. Her testimony can not be regarded as trustworthy."
How would this story end?
Anyone present in the court room must have had an idea what this case was all about—the investigator's ambitions for career development, about revenge. In spite of all this, prosecutor Mgr Roman Kokavec requested in his final speech that Cyril Dunka be punished for stealing and for usury.
His words generated a shocked reaction in the hearing room. During the whole hearing Kokavec asked only one question and did not provide any evidence, except for the testimony of Renata Pokutová that was proven as contrived.
According to defense attorney Krizalkovica, the prosecutor did not prove anything against the accused and the criteria for putting someone into custody was not even met. He doubted the testimony of Renata Pokutová and pointed out the obvious manipulation of testimonies by the investigator in the preparatory hearing. His words sparked a round of applause in the courtroom.
After him, Cyril Dunka spoke: "I was so glad that after eight years I got a job—after eight years. Yes, I was telling Roma to take care of their children. Maybe that is why some of them wanted revenge. I am innocent…"
On 7 March, the District Court decided to release Cyril from custody and cleared him of all the charges brought against him. In spite of this, nothing changed for Cyril. The prosecutor filed a complaint. "What does it mean," asked a scared Kali. "Will they let Cyril go home finally? Look how much he lost waiting and how much stress he had to go through," she pled. Until the hearing at the Regional Court, Cyril will remained in custody.
"It is a normal practice that the prosecutor appeals against the release judgment, but in 90 percent of the cases the Regional Court confirms the decision of the District Court," Judge Klemanič said later in a private conversation. Questioned about the expense of the trial and the prosecutor's tactics, the judge only shook his shoulders and said, "I will not comment on this, the law gives him (the prosecutor) a right to do this." He also refused to comment on the methods of the investigator.
After two testimonies (of Renata Pokutová and Darina Horváthova) the Regional Court confirmed the decision of the District Court and freed Cyril Dunka. This hell was hopefully over.
What happens now?
The prosecutor will continue to sleep through the hearings, paid by the taxes of Slovak citizens and present senseless accusations. And the journalists will continue to write half-truths about people from the Roma settlements based on half-truths from police.
Perhaps, thanks to some decent journalists, Žehra will finally have a road built so that the children who have to go to school don't have to go through mud twice a day. Even so, Cyril has to carry them to the public road, so they can make it school at least a bit clean.
"I am not sure that I will be able to live here," Kali said in front of the building of the Regional Court. "I want to live as a normal person, do you understand?"
Kristína Magdolenová, 21 May 2001
Photos: ERRC/Claude Cahn
- Archived articles about European Roma in CER
- Browse through the CER eBookstore for electronic books
- Buy English-language books on Central Europe through CER
- Return to CER front page