Citizens initiative seeks anti-discrimination law|
Since the New Year began, Czechs have been marking the 30th anniversary of
Charter 77, the dissident movement that sought to bring respect for human
rights to Communist Czechoslovakia. Since that time, the Czech Republic
has enjoyed well over a decade of freedom and democracy, but a new
citizens' group says there is still work to be done in the realm of human
The movement calls itself "Jsme Obcane!", or "We are
citizens!" It has no leader, and not even an official spokesperson.
Amid much fuzzy talk of participatory democracy at the press conference on
Thursday, one participant at least had some very concrete concerns.
Karel Holomek is a longtime leader of the Roma community in Brno:
"This definitely isn't an abstract matter....look how politicians
swing elections using political steps directed against Roma citizens. It
shows that the human rights situation is still poor, and that we need laws
that actually protect people's rights. Czech Roma are simply not accepted
in our society!"
A clear reference to Jiri Cunek, the politician who made his name by
evicting Roma tenants who had defaulted on their rent from city-owned
buildings. This week Mr. Cunek became the country's Deputy Prime Minister.
But what changes exactly would the 200-plus supporters of the "We Are
Citizens!" petition - among them some original Charter 77 signatories
- like to see? For one thing, they want an anti-discrimination law to be
passed in the Czech Republic, in accordance with EU ordinances that have
been adopted by all other member states. Organizer Mirek Prokes explains:
"There are two European guidelines in fact, number 43 and number 78.
One of them forbids discrimination in employment and the other forbids
racial discrimination in all spheres of society, like housing, employment,
health services, social services, and so on."
The petition also demands a mechanism be inserted into the Czech
Constitution, allowing for more citizens' referenda.
"Only once in 17 years there was a referendum on the European Union.
But we need direct democracy for other questions as well."
Certainly, Czech electoral democracy has not been experiencing its finest
moment since last June's inconclusive elections. For months, political
discussions have focused more on personalities than on the big questions
facing Czech society. Opinion polls regularly show that citizens are fed
up, or just bored by the circus.
Who is to blame? At the press conference, there was a lively exchange
between Mr. Holomek, who faulted the politicians, and Senator Alena
Gajduskova who criticized the media.
For both of them, hope now rests with the Czech people.