Czech Foreign Minister’s comments over Roma expulsion rack up tension between Prague and Paris|
A very undiplomatic spat has blown up between Prague and Paris. The fuse
was lit by Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg who said that
France’s ongoing expulsion of Roma, or gypsies, from camps across the
country smacked of racism.
French Prime Minister François Fillon there exhorting French ambassadors
to defend the country in the face of foreign criticism of its policy of
expelling Roma from makeshift camps in France back to where they came from,
Romania. Mr. Fillon declared the policy just and in line with European law.
A few days later, the Czech Republic’s top diplomat, Karel
Schwarzenberg, begged to differ. In a newspaper interview, the Czech
Republic’s Foreign Minister said it was impossible not to suspect that a
racist perspective played a role in the French expulsions and added that
they were contrary to the spirit and rules of the 27-strong European Union.
The Czech Republic’s representative for human rights and minorities,
Michael Kocáb, later weighed into the fray. He pointed out that France in
September is holding an international conference on the Roma issue without
inviting key countries such as Romania, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. He
said it harked backed to the Munich agreement of 1938, where the fate of
Czechoslovakia was decided by Britain, France, Germany and Italy without
The Czech Republic is currently heading a 12-nation initiative, the Decade
for Roma Inclusion, which groups countries from Central and Eastern Europe,
the Balkans and Spain– all of which have large Roma populations. As such
Prague might have expected an invite to the Paris conference.
Mr. Kocáb’s counterpart in France, Fançois Zimeray, hit back saying
France should not getting lessons on human rights from a country that was
in many respects less advanced in the area.
With relations between Prague and Paris ratcheted up, there were some
steps to relieve the tension.
First of all, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg pointed out that he had
not directly branded the French actions as racist but has said this was the
impression given to outsiders.
Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas on Sunday also stepped into the debate
and put some clear distance between himself and his foreign minister.
“I would be very careful about tough talk about the officials of other
states. I personally do not think there is any racism. These Roma are being
expelled primarily because they have disturbed the peace and are not
abiding by certain rules.”
That may have at least superficially have buried the diplomatic spat for
the moment. But Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg is due in France
next week for his first official visit since being named to the post this
time round. He can expect a frosty reception.