Česky English Deutsch Francais
Are the Deputy Prime Minister's offensive remarks about the Roma influencing ordinary citizens?
08-04-2007 - Dita Asiedu
The little village of Dolni Nemci, close to the town of Uherske Hradiste in Moravia, has a new hero. His name is Jan Riha - a pensioner who asked a question that triggered debate and may eventually spell the end of the political career of a senior member of government.

Jiri Cunek, photo: CTK In the Blesk tabloid's recent question and answer session between ordinary citizens and Deputy Prime Minister Jiri Cunek, who is also the leader of the Christian Democrats, Mr Riha asked what chances people other than the Roma had of receiving state subsidies. In order to explain what he was referring to, I have to go back a few months.

In October, Jiri Cunek - as mayor of Vsetin at the time - evicted several hundred Romany rent defaulters from their homes and re-housed them in portacabins and vacant dilapidated buildings. Although Mr Cunek's bold act is probably one of the reasons why he has made it all the way to the leadership of his party, his move did meet with criticism from some politicians. In response to the furore caused by the affair, the Green Party's Dzamila Stehlikova suggested establishing a public donation fund to help the Roma families install electricity, water and a functioning sewage system.

So, that's why Mr Riha asked whether people other than Romanies should receive subsidies. But it was the answer that made the headlines. Mr Cunek said in order for politicians to think you're badly off, you have to get tanned, cause disorder, and light fires on your town square. What Mr Cunek did not add but everyone knew he meant was "just like the Roma do". Despite this statement and another one he made previously when he described last year's Roma evictions as the removal of an ulcer, his party sees no reason for him to resign.

But more surprisingly, Mr Riha is now the village hero! The mayor recently told a daily that he gets calls from local residents asking how their famous citizen is doing. In an opinion poll that was recently commissioned by Czech TV, 64 percent of respondents agreed with Mr Cunek. So, it appears to me that Mr Riha asked a question that many have been dying to ask but never dared to.

I am not denying that the different life that many Roma lead is difficult to get accustomed to. But the question is what message the nation should be getting in terms of reacting to other ethnicities. The country's far right extremists are already applauding Mr Cunek. So what direction will the country take if the rest of the nation follows the advice of the state representative who suggests that it's not only okay to speak out but also to act on your emotions? I'm sure that many Czechs know their boundaries but how many do not?

Minister Cunek, who is also facing corruption charges, is now under growing pressure to resign. The President and Prime Minister both say he currently has no place in politics and the Green Party is threatening to leave the governing coalition if Mr Cunek stays.

When the Green Party minister proposed to establish the donation fund to collect one and a half million crowns in emergency assistance for the evicted Roma, pro-Roma activists did not welcome the offer. They feared it would backfire with reactions just like that of the pensioner from the little village in Moravia - and they were right. Now, the damage seems to have already been done. The country's international reputation as a xenophobic and possibly even discriminatory state is being confirmed and the remaining politicians' sudden engagement has come a few weeks too late.

Related articles
09.11.2011Vsetín faces Roma exodusNews
16.09.2008Deputy PM's Roma plan raises eyebrowsNews
16.09.2008Čunek’s proposal to force some Romanies into supervised centres a pre-election ploy, say Roma activistsNews
02.04.2008Jiří Čunek returns to government News
13.03.2008Issue of Jiří Čunek’s return to cabinet remains unresolvedNews
14.01.2008Čunek in trouble again after suggesting Roma families perpetuate social exclusionNews
01.11.2007Welfare abuse claim proves one scandal too many for Jiri CunekNews
21.04.2007Deputy PM: Government is preparing incentive scheme for firms to employ RomaNews
19.04.2007Cunek explains his statements to Government Council for Roma AffairsNews
All related articles
Format for printing
Send as e-mail

Also in section "News"
31.10.19  Roma children’s choir Chavorenge and members of the Czech Philharmonic to perform in UK
13.09.19  Archaeologists discover graves of Roma persecuted during WWII in Lety camp
02.06.19  Ida Kelarová and her Romany children’s choir Chavorenge
29.05.19  Two Roma activists to receive Charter 77’s František Kriegel Award
07.04.19  Romany music from the Czech Republic
13.03.19  Czech singer Věra Bílá, dubbed the Ella Fitzgerald of Gypsy music, dies days before her comeback tour
21.11.18  Roma social worker from Ostrava listed on BBC 100 Women list
12.10.18  Why are there so few Roma politicians?
17.09.18  Virtuoso pianist Tomáš Kačo: When I tell somebody I’m a Gypsy in the US, they’re excited about it
06.06.18  Study indicates ethnic hate is contagious
Archive of the section

Most popular articles
3153053   26.02.00 Some Basic Information about the Roma Population in the Czech Republic
290319   27.01.05 The 'Devouring': A look at the Romani Holocaust
184516   26.02.00 The History and Origin of the Roma
141463   26.02.02 The Language of the Roma
107706   13.06.00 The History of the Roma Minority in the Czech Republic
105260   26.02.00 The Traditional Family Life of the Czech Roma
103929   02.06.03 The Roma Holocaust
88238    World famous Roma Personalities
88174   21.02.04 Extreme right activists demonstrate for skinhead in jail
74801    Photographs by Romani Children
Copyright © Český rozhlas / Czech Radio, 1997-2023
Vinohradská 12, 120 99 Praha 2, Czech Republic