Printed 01.12.2022 08:57
The year 1996 in the Czech Republic was evaluated positively by the U.S. State Department overall, but in its annual report issued at the end of January 1997, it again took exeception to the situation of the Roma and warned again of the continuing prejudices within Czech society, the violence of extremist groups against the Roma, and the difficulties the Roma face in obtaining Czech citizenship. (CTK, January 30, 1997)
The 1997 report by the Commission for Security and Co-operation in Europe of the U.S. Congress, the so-called Helsinki Commission, warned of the infringement of Romani human rights in the Czech Republic, with reference to the Human Rights Watch/Helsinki report about discrimination against the Roma in the Czech Republic.
"No such discrimination takes place in our republic," reacted Milan Kriz of the press office of the Ministry of the Interior to the charges of the Helsinki Commission for the Lidove Noviny newspaper. He warned that the Roma who were denied Czech citizenship didn't fulfill the conditions declared by law. "Laws simply apply to everybody," stated Kriz. The Czech ambassador to the U.S., Alexandr Vondra, described the report of the Human Rights Watch/Helsinki organization as "lies", according to the Commission, and emphasized that nobody in the Czech Republic is without citizenship. (LN, May 16, 1997)
The Czech dailies reacted to the criticism of the Helsinki Commission according to their orientation:
The pro-government Denni Telegraf voiced the opinion that the rebukes of the U.S. Congress regarding the violation of the Romani minority's rights in the Czech Republic are unjustified, because the equality of citizens is laid down in the Czech constitution. For instance, the right to education applies to all citizens, but it's not possible to force everyone to take advantage of it. The same can be said for the problem of unemployment among the Roma, who often don't look for work. And individual attacks by persons in the skinhead movement are prosecuted by the police according to the law, according to the paper.
The opposition daily Pravo took up the opposite opinion. It stated that the requirement of a clean criminal record for the previous five years to obtain Czech citizenship discriminated against the Roma, and that it caused a number of Slovak Roma to remain without citizenship during the split of the Federation.
The independant Mlada Fronta Dnes didn't take a clear position on the criticism, writing that racist acts come from a deep atavism, the result of the ongoing conflict of two distinct ethnic groups. Another factor, though the paper considered it small, was the everyday street crime of parts of the Romani population.May
According to the American ambassador, discrimination against the Roma minority is revealed in both the attitudes of citizens of Czech nationality as well as attacks by skinheads, and probably also in the high unemployment among the Roma populace. According to Walker (pictured right), if the Czech government were to undertake several important steps toward combatting this discrimination, she believes it's possible to do more. In these circumstances, she said, the Romani spokespeople she has met with a number of times cannot emphasize enough the necessity of education. As an example, she cited the lack of nursery schools, where Romani children of pre-school age could be given the same opportunity to succeed in elementary school as other children. (CTK, May 20, 1997)
Pavel Bratinka, Minister Without Portfolio, in reacting to the statement of Ms. Walker, became the first Cabinet member to admit publicly that racism and intolerance of national minorities is reflected in the work and attitudes of the police, the state bureaucracy, and even employers. The fundamental problem, in Bratinka's view, why society is still closed to other nationalities, is that there is no unified concept which would help suppress prejudice. "A number of departments are already involved in many concrete activities which should curb racial intolerance. These activities are uncoordinated, however, removed from context and they often fall flat," said Bratinka. The intentions of his department, which has national minorities within its jurisdiction, remains unclear.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, in material related to the unequal position of the Roma, stated that it hadn't recorded any discrimination in the employment offices. According to the people in the Ministry, the difficulty lies primarily in the inadequate education of the Roma. At the same time, the report admitted that employers view the Roma as unskilled workers and essentially lump them all together. (Mlada Fronta Dnes, May 24, 1997)June
At the beginning of June, 1997, at a press conference for a report on the drowning of Tibor Danihel in Pisek in 1993, Minister Pavel Bratinka criticized the inconsistent work of the police, the court, and state and autonomous bodies during the inquiries into racially-motivated crimes. According to Bratinka, it wasn't a mistake in the legislature, but in "the willingness and unwillingness, the courage and lack of courage to enforce the law." (CTK, June 2, 1997)
In the second half of June 1997, billboards began appearing on the walls of the streets of Prague on which were portraits of Roma with writing inviting people to think about the relationship of Czech society towards them. The whole campaign was put together by Juul Hondius, a Dutch photographer, and it's called Tolerance.July
On July 3, Mlada fronta Dnes reported that ODS senator and mayor of the 4th district of Prague, Zdenek Klausner, suggested in his column for the district's newspaper, Tucnak, a solution for coexistence with problem members of the Roma minority by radical means - to move them out of the city. In the column he wrote:"We've always had a dangerous situation in Nusle. It's specific to this region, in which the former regime attempted to assimilate the Roma minority. Many ruined apartments are evidence of where it didn't succeed. All the citizens of this area would welcome news about a municipal apartment building being sold, and the new owner putting several of the numerous, problem families into replacement flats not only outside of Nusle, but even outside of Prague. It's possible that this action could become an inspiration for other private owners of a number of buildings in the area of Bratri synku square who inherited the problem tenants after 1989."
After studying the article, psychologists and lawyers agreed that the meaning behind Klausner's words was clear:"The best thing would be if the Roma were moved out to the edge of the city, where no one could see them." The mayor's suggestion, according to them, is no different from those voiced by various extremist parties and movements. Klausner himself believed, however, that he wasn't writing about the coexistence of the Roma with other inhabitants, but only about 'problem families.'
The Office of the President of the Republic described Klausner's article as dangerous. "Although it isn't a criminal offense, it is certainly regrettable, if it's considered as connected with the name of a public servant, in fact a senator," declared Jana Chalupova from the President's Office. Psychologist Slavomil Hubalek and lawyers defending the Roma voiced the opinion that Klausner wrote the article in Tucnak because it would go over well with his constituency. According to public opinion surveys, the majority of the Czech population has no great love for the Roma.
It isn't possible to prosecute the mayor for his words, or so said the law firm of Kriz, Belina and Assoc. in their legal analysis of the text:"in a summary of the whole text it isn't possible to say that the author committed any criminal offense... Of course, considering that his suggestion has to do exclusively with the Roma minority, the facts of the case approach the crime of inciting racial hatred according to Article 198a, Paragraph 1 of the criminal code."
Lawyer Klara Samkova-Vesela, well-known legal counsel for Roma, said that the mayor of Prague 4 doesn't do anything for the Roma minority anyway and that he doesn't know anything about the Roma from Nusle. "Mr. Klausner doesn't know what he's talking about, he hasn't dealt with the situation in Nusle for a long time. The town council for Prague 4 hasn't done anything at all on the the preventitive side for the Roma, nothing at all. The suggestion for a cultural center didn't even go through. In comparison with Prague 5 or 10, for example, where there are also a lot of Roma, it's unbelievable. They declare that they're completely on top of it, then they're surprised when it gets out of their control. He also forgets that in Nusle it is a Wallachian Roma community. With them it's no joke - these are people who deal in guns and drugs. Klausner really doesn't know who he's attacking," said Ms. Samkova-Vesela. (Mlada fronta Dnes, July 3, 1997)
Although spokespeople for the ODS party promised that the Klausner affair, which, according to them, damaged the whole party, would be dealt with without delay and that results would be forthcoming, by the end of August they still had yet to meet about Mr. Klausner's fate, with the explanation that there just hadn't been time for his case. "I can't assess what consequences Mr. Klausner's statements will have on his political posts. I don't know whether ODS will ask him to resign from any of them. But I think that our statement was decisive and important, in which we clearly said that we were deeply displeased and that a representative of ODS shouldn't express himself so vulgarly," said Jiri Honajzer, the head of the parliamentary club of the ODS.
Mayor Zdenek Klausner, however, felt no shame, didn't want to resign from any of his posts, and didn't apologize to the Roma. What's more, the mayor was given a huge measure of support from the inhabitants of Prague 4, who stood behind him unequivocally. (MFD, July 22, 1997)August
On the evening of August 5, the Nova television station broadcast on its program Na vlastni oci (With Your Own Eyes) a report about the life of Czech Roma applying for political asylum in Canada. After this report aired, dozens of Romani families started selling off their property and buying tickets to Canada.
On August 18, the Vice Chairman of the ODS party, Ivan Pilip (pictured left), in an interview for Czech TV's 21 program, said that local representatives for the ODS who had been proposing solving the so-called Roma problem by transferring the Roma out of the city or country, could see a halt put to their future political careers. At the same time, he added that the leadership of his party obviously wouldn't be returning to these undemocratic lapses of its individual members, because, according to him, it had already explicitly condemned them. "The ODS... condemns any displays of racial intolerance, and therefore distances itself from all statements of its members which would possibly be interpreted as racially motivated," said the Executive Council of the ODS in its statement. The Executive Council, however, didn't explicitly condemn the mayor of Prague 4, Zdenek Klausner, who suggested indirectly that Roma be moved out of Prague, or the mayor of the Marianske hory section of the northern Moravian city of Ostrava, Liana Janackova, who wanted to assist financially those Roma who wanted to emigrate to Canada.
At the end of August, Juris Sinka and Erik Jurgens, two members of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary assembly, arrived in the Czech Republic to determine its adherence to obligations and commitments incurred by the country's membership in the organization. Their visit was connected to the preparation of a concluding report they were to submit at the beginning of September to the monitoring committee of the Council of Europe, which would provide a conclusive report to the Council of Europe's Parliamentary assembly. This report is supposed to assess whether the assembly will continue to monitor the observation of the rights of national minorities in the Czech Republic. During his visit, Juris Silka said that the negative disposition towards national minorities is more noticeable from the public's side, while the government's approach seems to be good.
The envoys visited the Chanov residential estate in the northern Bohemian city of Most, where a great number of Roma live. "We deliberately chose the periphery of Most, where we can show that there are also a group of Roma who don't want or are unable to assimilate. The city is putting tens of millions of crowns here towards their inclusion in society, and it's nowhere to be seen," said Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee member Milan Loukota of the far-right Republicans, who accompanied the investigators. "We did not note any conspicuous discrimination or racial hatred. The Czech government is democratic, though there are some groups of people here who truly oppress the Roma," said Erik Jurgens, who also met with the representatives of individual ministries with his colleague Sinka.
After his visit to Chanov, Juris Sinka declared that the conflicts and problems they encountered in the Romani ethnic group are to a certain extent a caused by a legacy from the past. In his view, the traditional lifestyle of the Roma was interfered with, leaving them demoralized. "By all of this, in how the situations are, I don't want to blame any local government organs, or the government or Parliament," said Sinka to reporters after a meeting with the Chairman of the Chamber of Deputies, Milos Zeman. Sinka didn't deny that several of the problems are caused by the demoralization of the Roma themselves. Erik Jurgens didn't want to offer an opinion directly to the question, though at the same time he considered the Czech citizenship law to be discriminatory. "Now, at this moment, it's hard to make any kind of evaluation," replied Jurgens, and he recalled that during the split of the former Czechoslovak federation the problem arose, as many citizens weren't sufficiently alert and didn't apply for Czech citizenship. (CTK, August 28, 1997)
Several days before the visit of the representatives of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary assembly, however, Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus had to confront, not for the first time, criticism of the citizenship law. In this case, American congressmen sent Klaus a letter, in which they requested he attempt to eliminate some particular elements in the Czech citizenship law. The letter was made public on August 23 in Washington by the U.S. Congress' Commission for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the so-called Helsinki Commission. The letter was signed by Senator Alfons D'Amato and Representative Christopher H. Smith. "The view that appears in this letter is over-simplifying and inaccurate," Klaus told reporters. He also said that further explanations would be necessary on various forums, because it was evident the attempts in this direction had up to this point not brought results. "This letter uses the same arguments which this government has faced for the fourth or fifth year, and I have the feeling that the government will use the same arguments in its explanations," said Klaus. (CTK, August 25, 1997)
At the end of August, the government's Council for Nationalities began to discuss with its head, Minister Pavel Bratinka, the Report on the Situation of the Roma Community in the Czech Republic. Taking part in its preparation for several months was an interdepartmental working group under the Council, which included people such as Emil Scuka, Chairman of the Association of Roma in Moravia Karel Holomek, Czech Radio reporter Jarmila Balazova, the daily Pravo reporter Petr Uhl and Vaclav Trojan from the Helsinki Citizen's Assembly. This prepared report was dismissed by the Assembly of Romani Representatives of Bohemia and Moravia on August 27. Ondrej Gina didn't say what exactly in the material they rejected by saying that the assembly hadn't authorized him to offer that information. He added that the Roma intended to submit to the government "completed material," which could serve as an alternative for the meeting of the government. (CTK, August 27, 1997)
According to Pavel Bratinka's deputy minister, Viktora Dobala (pictured right), the Romani representatives didn't denounce the report on the situation of the Roma minority in the Czech Republic, but the draft of the government resolution which accompanied it. Their reason being that the resolution didn't contain their suggestions. Dobal did say, however, that the overwhelming majority of their suggestions were mentioned in the resolution, though at the same time he admitted that several of their suggestions were deliberately left out, as "they were formulated such that they couldn't be used." (CTK, August 28, 1997)
The report on the situation of the Roma community which was submitted to the government by Minister Bratinka, envisaged, among other things, assigning 36 tasks to ten ministries. The suggested tasks would have to be undertaken immediately or by the end of 1997 (Tyden magazine, 36/97). The report called attention to the high rate of unemployment (in some places as high as 90 percent) among the Roma population, caused by a social system that in certain cases makes it more advantageous to go on social support than to work, as well as the unwillingness of Roma to take employment. According to the report, "the official lists of work opportunities often have an anti-Roma clause, that is, that the employer doesn't accept Roma." The high rate of unemployment is also related to the low level of education among the Roma and it leads to individual Roma dropping out of society and to the perpetration of crime (the most common crime of which Roma are convicted is theft). All of this along with their problematic living situation worsens the conditions for the education of the younger generation of Roma. Therefore, the report recommends concentrating on the Roma who would, after completing re-qualification courses, work as advisors in public administration, in which Roma presently place little trust, and as assistents at nursery and elementary schools along with Czech experts with familiarity in Romani culture.
The government rejected the report, however, as not concrete enough, and charged its submitter, Minister Without Portfolio Pavel Bratinka, with making the provisions for remedying the situation more concrete. Minister Bratinka wasn't disappointed with this outcome and, on the contrary, said that there will be more time to more thoroughly work out things whose resolution, according to him, is a matter of several generations. The Vice-chairman of the Council for Nationalities Viktor Dobal, said about the return of the report for revision: "The government finally had a chance to approve something substantial and they didn't take advantage of it. Except for Lux and Bratinka, none of the ministers realized how serious the situation is" According to Dobal, the report was rejected mainly because it wasn't typical government material. It emphasized the positive steps of the government too little and criticized too much. "We only wanted to fulfil the promise Klaus made to the Roma community, but the government was probably scared of the number of tasks which it entailed," said Dobal. (Tyden, 36/97)September
A month after his visit to the Czech Republic, the Dutch deputy Erik Jurgens , who came to the country as a member of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, said that the position of the Roma in the Czech Republic presents a serious problem in the area of the adherence and protection of human rights. All concerned parties in the country should take part in its resolution, in the interests of the democratic development of society. Improving the Roma's situation calls for a change in the thinking of the Czech majority as well as the Romani minority. Jurgens believes the Czechs must learn greater olerence towards the Roma, and the Roma have to realize that preserving their identity doesn't mean not observing basic approaches to life which predominate in society or being contrary.
Jugens admitted that it would probably be many years before the situation would get to the level of other European countries where similar problems exist. One essential concrete step that would contribute to the resolution of the Roma in the country would be the quick adoption of appropriate education of inhabitants, said the Dutch parliamentarian. This educational process towards greater tolerance should not be left entirely in the hands of the state, but should also include the church. On the basis of his experience in the Czech Republic, Jurgens said that "aloofness" between the majority Czechs and the Roma is, due to language and other affinities, frequently unwarranted and that it would often be enough to arrange a meeting of both sides in the area of residence.
According to the report, which the Council of Europe deputies approved on September 22, the development in the Czech Republic is overall positive, but the country must make further advances, primarily in the question of the situation of the Roma. The Council of Europe called on the Czech government to continue to try to fight against discrimination against the Roma in society and to work closely with the Council's Committee against Racism and Intolerance. (CTK, September 24, 1997)
On September 25, the Council of Europe made public its report on the situation regarding racism and tolerance in the Czech Republic. The ten-page report particularly called attention to the numerous displays racism, xenophobia, and intolerance, and their irresponsible expoitation by the Czech mass media. The Council of Europe, however, doesn't consider the majority of Czech media to be racist, but many in the media sometimes approach the treatment of information connected to the question of racism with clear attempts at sensationalism. The media must play a significant role in the fight against intolerance and in the Czech Republic "they shoud be encouraged" to interpret racial incidents in a more rational way. The Council suggested the adoption of certain "codes of self-discipline."
In a September poll by the Institute for the Study of Public Opinion (IVVM), it was discovered, that almost all citizens, 94 percent, believe that the laws of the Czech Republic give the same rights to Roma as to all the rest of its citizens. At the same time, however, 77 percent of the population noted the differences between the values and culture of the Roma and other citizens.
According to 56 percent of those asked, Roma have worse possibilities in finding employment than other residents, and 34 percent od respondents perceived worse conditions for their participation in public and civic life. The greatest displeasure among respondents was aroused by the ignoring and breaking of laws by Roma, their distaste for work, and their parasitism. Coexistence with the Roma was considered as good by only 15 percent of those asked, while 81 percent of residents considered it bad.
If it's a question of Romani residents acquiring sufficient education, 60 percent of respondents think that they have the same conditions as others, and in acquiring a place of residence, 48 percent expressed such an opinion. Attaining personal security and the development of their own culture are, according to 57 percent of respondents, approximately the same for Roma as for others citizens.
Among the characteristics which Czech appreciate most in their Roma fellow citizens, 11 percent of respondents chose their solidarity, around six percent said the stability of their families and their high-spiritedness. In appreciation followed their temperament, ethnic awareness, bonds with their children, sociality, but also their attempt to survive and their desire for freedom.
As a negative characteristic among the Roma, 23 percent of respondents answered with their breaking of laws and criminal behavior, 14 percent mentioned the Roma's dislike for work, and 11 percent parasitism. Ten percent pointed out their negative way of life, and nine percent of respondents to their behavior in public. Among other negative characteristics were voiced ignoring the law, aggressiveness, disorder, and noisiness. The most negative opinions were expressed by people living in Central Bohemia, the least negative by people in South Bohemia. (CTK, October 1, 1997)
According to the IVVM study, 36 percent of residents have personal contact with Roma every day. Almost three quarters of these people consider these experiences bad. 43 percent of respondents think that successful coexistence with the Roma isn't possible at all. The opposite opinion was given by 33 percent of those polled. The possibility of coexitence with the Roma was ruled out more often by men, people with elementary school education and those with personal contact with Roma.
Roughly one third of blue collar workers have had good experiences with Roma, 28 percent of entreprenuers and 22 percent of other occupations said the same. Negative attitudes towards Roma were held most often by students and apprentices, of which 86 percent said they had had bad experiences with them. (CTK, October 2, 1997)
In mid-October, the government approved a statute of the interdepartmental commission for Roma,it accepted a report on the situation of the Roma community in the Czech Republic, and more articles appeared in newspapers and magazines... It could have seemed as if suddenly the Roma were being talked about everywhere. Many years of ignoring the Roma minority and expressions of racism couldn't be replaced by several days of interest in the mass media, however.
Thus, for the first time since 1989, the government accepted a comprehensive study on the situation of the Roma community which suggested steps for improving it. This came about on October 29, just as the Czech Republic was facing the impending threat of Great Britain introducing visa requirements to Czechs. The government approved the report in practically the same form as it had been returned to Minister Pavel Bratinka with serious reservations. "Compared to the original version, we made only cosmetic changes in the wording," insisted Bratinka's deputy minister, Viktor Dobal.
The government claimed in mid-August that the report didn't say clearly enough what the state should do to overcome the constantly widening gulf between the Roma and other inhabitants. Some ministers, however, gave as the real reason the report wasn't accepted the first time the fact that the document wasn't didn't put the government in too flattering a light and criticized it for it's lack ofaction in resolving the Roma question. "In fact, the ministers who had the greatest reservations about the material suddenly withdrew from their earlier comments," added Dodal, in a clear allusion to pressure from abroad. (Mlada Fronta Dnes, October 30, 1997)
With the approval of the report, a dozen ministries were charged with a range of individual tasks, the object of which is the integration of the Roma into the society of the majority. Klaus said that the government didn't reject Bratinka's material because of its criticism of the government, but because it was conceived as more of an exploratory report and didn't contain concrete proposals andtasks to undertake to resolve the situation.
The government also promised for the first time to the Roma that it would do everything so they wouldn't have to flee the country. "The government is alarmed with the applications by some of our fellow citizens for asylum in foreign countries and is firmly determined to confront the causes which led to it. The government will do everything in its power so that no one is afraid because of their membership in this or that minority community," declared Vaclav Klaus (pictured right)at a cabinet meeting, which was even attended, remarkably, by President Vaclav Havel. The president then called on Roma no tot look for salvation in asylum, because it will only bring them misfortune in the end, and at the same time he turned to the white majority, to fight the ignorant and hidden elements of latent racism.
Many of those working with the problems connected with the Roma greeted with satisfaction at least the fact that the cabinet had accepted the report of the Council for Nationalities. Lawyer Klara Samkova-Vesela received Klaus' words with scepticism: "I'm sorry theat the government has put this forward now, when it has completely squandered its chance to win the trust of Roma inhabitants."
Twelve ministries were assigned with certain duties to fulfil in order to promote the acceptance of the Roma in the majority Czech society. In education, there must be strengthening of the preparation of a system of basic education for students with linguistic and socio-culturally disadvantageous situation, the distribution of literature on the topic of tolerance and multi-culturalism, the granting of execeptions for the minimal number of children, as well as the elaboration of new bases for testing children for their induction into special schools which would prevent the unnecessary transferal of Romani children to these types of schools, and others measures.
Another requirement of the report was that the Ministry of Education, in cooperation with the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, designate qualificational prerequisites for the position of Romani Educational Assistant, of which there should be 20. The materials also mandated the creation of a system to motivate employers to make more employment available to Roma.
The Ministry of the Interior is directed to elaborate a methodic briefing to the offices of the state administration in their competences in training Romani advisors and assitants, to enable Romani candidates access to study in the police academies, and to check whether civic associations are engaging in any racist activity.
The Minister of Justice was assigned to follow the state of racially-motivated criminal offenses. The Ministry for Urbam Development was ordered to support housing projects and Romani organizations and firms have to take part in the allocating and construction of the residences. The govermment called on its members to quickly begin completing the submitted steps and to commence meeting with Romani organizations in the near future. (CTK, October 29, 1997)The text of the government declaration on the situation of the Roma community
1. The government declares that it is alarmed by the departure of some of our fellow citizens and their applications for political asylum in foreign countries and is firmly determined to confront the causes which led to it.
2. The government considers the Roma community to be a natural part of our society, realizes and fully respects Romani culture and its contribution to our country.
3. The government will do everything in its power so that no one is afraid because of their membership in this or that minority community. Economic reasons are resolvable here at home and do not justify applications for political asylum.
4. The government calls on Roma and influential spokespersons of Romani organizations - to not leave, - to begin cooperating constructively with the government, - to nominate their representaives to the Interdepartmental Commission for Affairs of the Roma Community without delay, - to get involved in putting to use the already existing governmental steps as well as the steps which the government has approved and with which the majority of the its members and all priorities of provincial offices are concerned.
5. At the same time, the government calls on all citizens of the Czech Republic to do the maximum for a better feeling among out Romani fellow citizens, and so contribute to these feelings of mutual distrust, belittlement, acusations and racial discrimination to disappear from our country.
6. The government is aware that this problem is a matter of many decades or even centuries, and therefore it also knows that it cannot be resolved from one day to another. It believes that the submitted remedies will speed the necessary positive resolution. Vaclav Klaus (CTK, October 29, 1997)
The government's declaration on the situation in the Roma community was considered by the Association for the Republic - Republican Party of Czechoslovakia (SPR-RSC) as a display of open hostility towards those citizens who don't want to put up with the criminal behavior perpetrated by the Roma. "The SPR-RSC considers this shameless document a real demonstration of racism, since its contents openly place the interests of one minority before those of the whole nation, to its detriment," said Jan Vik in a written declaration released by the party. (CTK, October 30, 1997)
Czech and Slovak intellectuals formulated the Schwarzenberg Appeal of All Proper Gadze to the Fellow Citizens in the Czech and Slovak Republics, which was drafted and signed on October 26 at Schwarzengerg-Scheinfeld castle. An appeal was also made by sociologist Jirina Siklova at an international conference held on October 31 and November 1 in Prague on "European Security in the Perspective of a Civil Society," called by the Czech Helsinki Committee and the Helsinki Citizen's Assembly.
"If some person is unjustly attacked, humiliated and libeled, it is necessary to personally and instantly stand up for him, whatever his race, nationality, or ethnicity, and to publicly condemn such a crime so that the awareness is gradually created throughout society that this simply doesn't belong in proper society. When a similar crime occurs in a democratic state elsewhere, the entire government usually protests and its spokesmen demonstrate against this violence, and publicly condemn it.
Our government doesn't do this yet, perhaps it doesn't have time or maybe some members of Parliament have no idea that they should advance on this. Therefore, with this good custom we citizens ourselves must begin and hope that other good people will connect add their voices. So they acted for us and stood up for the unjustly persecuted and they were defended by the members of Amnesty International, the Helsinki Commission, and the Helsinki Citizen's Assembly, and all of them are involved in protecting human rights around the world.
At present, those in the Czech and Slovak Republics who are most discriminated against and debased are the Roma, pejoratively known as gypsies. They identify us, the non-Roma majority, as gadze. We are gadze, we accept that identification, but we want to separate ourselves from gadze who are racists and uneducated hooligans, as well as from those gadze who criticize everything but don't do anything for change or for the benefit of those who are injured."
Signed: Jiri Pehe (political scientist, advisor to President Havel), Petr Pithart (politician, Chairman of the Senate), Vilem Precan (historian), Helena Precanova, Noemi Precanova (translator), Jiri Ruckl (entreprenuer), Karel Schwanzenberg (entreprenuer), Rudolf Slansky (diplomat), Ladislav Snopko (dramatist), Zdenek Suda (sociologist), Szigeti Laszlo (publicist), Martin M. Simecka (director and writer), Jirina Siklova (profesor, sociologist), Jan Sikl (psychotherapist), Jan Simsa (evangelical minister), Jaroslav Sonka (journalist), Jiri Vancura (publicist), Libuse Vancurova (reporter), Jiri Vesely (microbiologist), Josef Vohryzek (literary critic), Tomas Vrba (publicist), Peter Zajac (literary scholar), Vaclav Zak (journalist) and others.November
Workers at the Ministry of Defense in charge of heating the Military Historical Insitute in Prague at Zizkov refused to employ Roma as stokers in their furnace, according to a story that appeared on November 1 in Mlada Fronta Dnes newspaper. They justified this policy with the claim that Roma have too dubious a reputation to be entrusted with heating the institute. People from the President's office and the government's Council for Nationalities were shocked with this approach, and a meeting of officials unequivically condemned it as racist. The spokesman for the Ministry of Defense, Milan Repka, in a relply to a question from Czech Radio, said that for now he didn't have enough information about why workers at the Ministry of Defense in charge of heating the Military History Insitute would refuse to employ Roma as stokers.
The administrative staff of the military museum stated their position finally on November 7 in writing, where they explained to their superior why the Zizkov institution wasn't heated. "Considering that this is a question of an object of special importance (my opinion), I couldn't and I still can't accept in the position of stoker persons with questionable reputations, like persons of Romani origin for example, homeless people, or as the case may be, persons without Czech state citizenship, which are the persons applying for the position in the majority of cases," said the letter, which was signed by Petr Gajdica and Jiri Fuchs of the military grounds maintenance.
The policy of the Ministry's functionaries, it must be said, isn't anything exceptional. The government's Council for Nationalities in its Report on the Situation of the Roma Community stated that some labor offices add directly to the list of available jobs the so-called anti-Roma clause, which means in practice that this job isn't for Roma. Both ministerial officials Gajdica and Fuchs categorically denied the label of racist and insisted that they have nothing against Roma. In response to the question why then didn't they want to employ them, however, they wouldn't give a satisfactory reply. "I think of it universally, because there are bad experiences with them," insisted Gajdica. At the same time, however, he admitted that he never had any bad personal experiences with Roma and none had even worked for him to date. "Of course there are exceptions among them. Our people are many times worse than Roma. But the ones that apply for this manual work, you know, are complete alcoholics, criminal types and such," added Gajdica. Ivan Kukacka, Fuchs' and Gajdica's superior, was not happy with their policy. But he was also adamantly convinced that his people were definitely not racists, they just expressed themselves badly.
This same argument was offered over the summer by Senator Zdenek Klausner, when he defended his words about moving Roma out of the city center. "They have to be careful what they write. It is unfortunate. I will have a talk with them and I want them to explain it to me," said Kukacka. "It definitely wasn't a racist attack, they only used awkward phrases. Gajdica was punished for not arranging heating for the institution, and this letter was the reaction to the punishment. I understand that that way, that he was attempting to explain why he hadn't arranged for something for which he was responsible."
People who deal with the protection of human rights and national minorities agreed, that this was a matter of an entirely demonstrably a dangerous display of racism. "It's an unacceptable form of racism, thinking on the principle of collective guilt. They don't actually know why, but they certainly won't give them work. It's totally the type of generalization, that all Roma are dirty beggars. It is dangerous, because it's the ignorant nature of a good person," held psychologist Slavomil Hubalek. Practically the same opinion was held by Deputy Minister-Without-Portfolio Viktor Dobal (ODA): "If someone describes someone of Romani origin a priori as a person with a bad reputation, then he is a racist according to me."
Jana Chalupova of the President's Office, who has come out sharply against the slightest instances of racial and national intolerance, was alarmed at the approach of the two officials. "From their letter it seems that during the filling of the position of stoker, the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms was violated, and we will submit this letter to the Ministry of Defense, so it can take the necessary measures," said Chalupova. At the Ministry of Defense, no one wanted to make any further statement about the letter at the time. "We will pursue an examination in order to better assess what actually went on," declared Vladimir Lukovsky of the Ministry's press office, who would only talk about the word 'racism' with great care. "In any case, I can say that it is definitely something he shouldn't have said. Mr. Gajdica's statement was certainly unfortunate," remarked Lukovsky. (Mlada Fronta Dnes, November 1, 1997)
The two officials of the military groundskeeping management who didn't want to accept Roma as furnace stokers will now in all peobability not decide who they will hire. The Ministry of Defense, which oversees their office, recommended just this to the director of its Prague office, that the authority to hire employees be removed from Petr Gajdica and Jiri Fuchs. Both men signed the letter in which they said that they couldn't entrust the job of stoker at the Military Historical Institute to Roma because they have a dubious reputation. "It is necessary to consider their opinion as absolutely groundless and discriminatory," stated the Ministry's press office in its statement.
"We also call on the director of the Prague section to thoroughly look into the reasons which led his two functionaries to refuse to hire Roma." The Department's spokesman, Milan Repka, insisted that the Ministry would hand the case over to the police. "We must first investigate whether it is actually true. If so, then it should be a subject of interest to the police for spreading xenophobia and racism," said Repka. The police, as of November 3, still had yet to receive any such instigation, and therefore none of the specialists on racial problems had dealt with the case. (Mlada Fronta Dnes, November 4, 1997)
At the beginning of November, there appeared on the streets of Czech cities colorful billboards, which pointed out to passers-by that society isn't monolithic, but that individuals of different color skin live in it, and it isn't possible to condemn them for it. "Co se divite?" ("What do you see?") asks a black hockey player in a Czech national team jersey from one billboard, and from a second a Romani firefighter. It invites people to not be surprised if they see fellow citizens of different color skin doing what Czech national heroes do. The poster with the Romani firefighter challenges the stereotype in Czech thinking, which says that a Rom is only an unemployed thief or beggar, while the black hockey player points out that the national hockey team doesn't have to be only white like most of Czech society. On the billboards appears the campaign's motto: "Nesudte skupinu, sudte cloveka" (Don' judge the group, judge the person).
The campaign was prepared by the ad agency Leo Burnett and the Czech Helsinki Committee, which hoped to at least manage to halt and reverse the ominous trend of the attitude in society here towards foreigners. "We were aroused by the growing mood of racism and xenophobia. It isn't possible for people to judge someone by their membership in certain national or other groups. They must do so on the basis of concrete experience with concrete people," said Czech Helsinki Committe Chairman Martin Palous.
A part of the campaign can also be found on train tickets, on the back of which is the label CESI NEKRAST TADY! (Czechs Don't Steal Here!) and text which reads: "If you saw a similar sign sometime in a foreign country, then you know just how it feels to be a victim of racism. Perhaps you should remember that feeling the next time you judge someone before you know them personally." That the attempted to address the most people possible is also demonstrated by two television spots on the air in prime time on the most popular station in the country, NOVA, and announcements in newspapers and magazines. "We approached NOVA with a request for cooperation and they agreed. We think that it's necessary to encourage the audience of NOVA television to begin thinking about racism in Czech society," said the Director of the Czech branch of Leo Burnett, Cal Bruns.
Experts were skeptical that people's attitudes towards different races can be changed so soon by such means. It was, however, the first official anti-racism campaign in the Czech Republic after 1989 (not that ther were any before), and therefore it has to be welcomed and appreciated for that reason and hopefully more and more will follow and important Czech personalities will get involved. That these campaigns are needed here could be seen on November 8, when Hassan Elamin Abdelradi, a Sudanese student at the Prague School of Economics, was murdered by a young skinhead.
With two knife wounds to the stomach on Saturday at 2:30 in the morning, an 18 year-old skinhead brutally murdered Sudanese student Hassan Elamin Abdelradi in the vestibule of a dormitory of the Prague School of Economics on Jarova street. According to available information, the murdered Sudanese had visited the school club Koule with his cousin before his death. When they left the club, they became an "object of interest" of the skinhead, who had been drinking with his companions in the nearby pub Juve. The skinhead first chased the first Sudanese to the fifth floor of the dorm. Then in the vestibule of the dormitory he struck Hassan, whose life he took with two stabs of his knife. (Lidove Noviny, November 10, 1997)
Eighteen-year-old cook Petr Z., who killed Sudanese student Hassan Elamin Abdelradi on Saturday morning and is accused of racially-motivated murder, already had had problems with the police for some time due to extremist opinions and attacks. Two months before, in almost the same place where he killed Abdelradi, he attacked a Czech-Arabic married couple with his skinhead friends. The Arab ended up in the hospital with serious injuries and only the leader of the skinheads had been prosecuted for it at the time. Petr Z. did figure among the other suspects, though.
"If we manage to prove his guilt, he will be charged," said prosecuter Martin Omelka. This incident truly proved to be one of the key reasons why Petr Z. was prosecuted under the stricter racist statutes. "We will of course take his past into consideration. In addition, from witnesses' testimony it's clear that the perpetrator shouted at the student and his colleague what were clearly racist insults," declared the Chief of Prague Investigators, Zdenek Janicek. Thus, Petr Z. is faced with up to life in prison, which the law on racially-motivated murder permits, after being tightened two years ago. Although he confessed to the crime, he himself denies that he is a racist.
The September incident, for which the skinhead in custody has yet to be charged, is could also be described as a model case of why right-wing extremists are so difficult to prosecute. "All skinheads look alike, like peas in a pod: the same shaved heads, same clothes and boots. It's difficult to prove who actually kicked someone, who threw punches. Only some of them come before the court," said Omelka in response to politicians criticizing the justice system's laggard pace. (Mlada Fronta Dnes, November 11, 1997)
The murder became an impulse for an outbreak of anti-racism demonstrations in the Czech Republic and drew attention to the existence a number of racist organizations. The first protest in reaction to the racially-motivated killing of the Sudanese student was called immediately on Monday, November 10, on Winston Churchill Square in front of the building of the Prague School of Economics. At the demonstration called by the Academic Senate of the school, however, appeared as well, calling for an active fight against the forces which support feelings of xenophobia.
These politicians were not invited to the Sudanese student's funeral, because the Academic Senate felt theat they took advantage of the spontaneous student demonstration in front of the PSE for their own political exhibitionism.
In the last seven years, more than ten people have died because of the color of their skins, but only Saturday's killing of a Sudanese student roused political leaders from their lethargy. Dozens of them took part in the largest anti-racism demonstration ever in front of the murdered student's school in the Zizkov area of Prague, to which around ten thousand people came. The majority of the politicians confined themselves to words of criticism and exacerbation, however.
"Why are they doing it now, after so many attacks, after so many murders? Why weren't they able to appear publicly before? So this really looks like just a gesture," angrily declared Ondrej Gina of the Council of Rokycany Roma. The only politician to acknowledge his reaction as true, however, was Civic Democratic Alliance Chairman Michael Zantovsky, who made it plain that society and government representatives are only reaping the fruit of many years of inactivity and indifference.
"Everyone here is clearly expressing their amazement and alarm. The question is, whether we have the right to be amazed. We've silently watched how racism spread among us and found it's way into people's prejudices. There are even people sitting in Parliament and the Senate who have helped to spread this phenomenom," said Zantovsky in a clear strike at Premier Vzclzv Klaus' meeting with Republican parliamentary deputies and Senator Zdenek Klausner's idea to move unadaptable Roma out of the city centers. The embarrassment of politicians who have watched the struggle against racism for a long time and the absence of this struggle in the election programs of any of the political parties indirectly give credence to their statements.
For instance, Chairman of Praliament Milos Zeman intended to push through legislation to outlaw the skinhead movement. Organizations of right-wing extremists are not officially registered, though, so it's not really possible to disband them. "Would you lock up everyone with a shaved head and knee-boots? Or how would you prove who belongs to the skinheads?" wondered one criminologist. New Minister of the Interior Jindrich Vodicka also roused his subordinates, when he said that the investigators had completely neglected the presumption of innocence and indicated that the investigative procedure made no sense to him. "The killer is behind bars and I will see to it that he is charged first," said Vodicka.
Meanwhile, Petr Z. had been charged with the murder of the student already on Saturday, November 8. And until the time when the court finally brings a verdict on his case, everyone has to look upon him as an innocent person. Most of the dead Sudanese students' colleagues from the Prague School of Economics were shocked by the appearance of politicians at the demonstration. Immediately afterwards, the school's Academic Senate met and categorically announced: "The Demonstration was exploited for political exhibitionism." The students were not pleased, for example, by the appearance of a senator from Klaus' ODS, Vladimir Zeman, who began his address with the words: "Zizkov is my electoral district. When I went into last year's elections, my motto was: Where decency ends, strength must enter."
The school's rector Jan Seger admitted that the organization of the event got a little out of hand. "Originally we wanted the mayor of Prague 3 to make an appearance, the student representative and I, plus an official guest. But then millions of people started to sign on with us: deputy ministers, spokespeople and experts from all over..." complained the rector. The majority of students as well as people who working for the rights of national minorities, however, made it clear that such a demonstration is better than none at all. "The biggest problem I see in this is that this death was expected for so long before it happened. Now it has become a political problem from which every politician is trying to benefit. But it doesn't matter, just so long as it fulfils its purpose," said the President's Chancellor, Ivan Medek, summarizing the opinion of many.(Mlada Fronta Dnes, November 11, 1997)
Minister of Justice Vlasta Parkanova said that she is shocked by the racially-motivated murder of the 23 year-old Sudanese, and that she intends to personally see through the crime's investigation and administration of punichment. "I will recommend to the state agency that it suggest the strictest possible sentence for the culprits," declared Minister Parkanova.
Premier Vaclav Klaus asked the new Minister of the Interior Jindrich Vodicka and all responsible public officials to prosecute more strictly by basic methods all racially-motivated crimes. He said this response to the killing days before of the Sudanese student. "I am absolutely shocked, absolutely dismayed and alarmed by the skinhead movement," remarked the Prime Minister before his flight to the United States. He added that citizens must take the murder as "the last straw."
The Chairman of the Constitutional Court Zdenek Kessler described the attempt by the Chairman of the Chamber of Deputies, Milos Zeman, to draw up a law banning the skinhead movement as legislatively highly difficult. At the same time, he also expressed his alarm over the murder of Sudanese student Hassan Elamin Abdelradi by members of this movement.
In connection with the murder of the student from Sudan, the Chamber of Deputies expressed its dissatisfaction with the demonstrations of racism and intolerance towards other nations and ethnic groups. It also asked the government to submit a detailed report to it by January 20 on movements and displays supporting or propagating racism or xenophobia in the Czech Republic. The resolution was supported by 138 of the 139 deputies present.
The Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jaroslav Sedivy, sent to his Sudanese ministerial counterpart a letter in which he firmly condemned the weekend murder of Sudanese student Hassan Elamin Abdelradi. The letter was handed over to the Sudanese Ambassador to Austria and the Czech Republic Ahmad Abdal Halim Muhammad in Prague by the Director of the African and Middle East Department of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs Hynek Kmonicek. The Sudanese ambassador then expressed his thanks, according to the ministry, for the response of the Czech side in the resolution of the afore-mentioned tragic case and his appreciation of the spontaneous anti-racism demonstrations which went on during his stay in the CR.
The police charged the second of the two skinheads with the crime of violence against a group of inhabitants (a racially-motivated crime, in other words) for his role in chasing the two Sudanese, one of which ended up dead, the other injured. The skinhead, who is 16 years old, was being held by the police while they considered whether he would be put in custody or released until his prosecution. He had been in custody since Saturday the 8th of November and faced charges of murder with racial motives and harmful injury.
Xenophobia and racism, which are several times higher than, for example, in the United States or Netherlands, are the result of the historical inexperience and unpreparedness of the Czech nation for other races, according to sociologist Petr Matej. At the same time, common Czech society doesn't have problems with foreigners of whatever color, but rather with Roma. While the problem of racist groups can be resolved by their being banned, the education of Czech society towards greater tolerance will take generations.
On the other hand, a sociologist from the Institute for the Study of Public Opinion, Jan Misovic, who is the author of a study on the tolerance of Czechs toward other colors of skin that reveals an increasing intolerance toward Roma, compares the banning of racist groups to putting out a fire whose center will continue to smoulder. He sees the starting point in family and school education of young people among whom racism mostly shows up, and in the sensible use of their free time. "Banning them is a single action, which won't prevent them from affiliating," opined Misovic.
The murder of the Sudanese student brought about, in addition to protest demonstrations, a debate on the topic of racism in Czech society.
Investigating and prosecuting each case, like that of the Sudanese student in Prague for example, must be pursued to its end, said Interior Minister Jindrich Vodicka. On the November 16 airing of the Czech Television program Debata, he described as a turning point the anti-racism protest demonstration of Monday, November 10, which he considered as the first clear, public display against displays of racism in this country. The minister also recalled the police action in Kolesovice na Rakovnicku, where the police wrecked an unregistered rally by members of the skinhead movement. "And it will be like that every time, if I have any influence on the activity of the police," said Vodicka. The tough prosecution of actual perpetrators of racially-motivated crimes was also endorsed on the program by the Deputy Premier and Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL) chief Josef Lux. He also said that the government should cease to contribute to a certain atmosphere of intolerance in order to help reduce the confrontational feeling within society. He emphasized that it's necessary to learn together to not only tolerate, but even to defend diversity, which not only has to do with the color of skin, but in general.
Senate Chairman Petr Pithart voiced the opinion on Debata that Romani inhabitants in the country don't have the same possibilities as other citizens. Further, he said that Czechs are witnesses to a somewhat unseemly indulgence of the Roma - maybe from concern that the police will be accused of racist motives. An opposite case, he said, is the law on state citizenship, which on paper is fine, but is unfair in spite of this.
Over 80 representatives of Romani society came on November 18 to a meeting, at which they were to elect a spokesperson to the interdepartmental commission set to begin working on January 1, 1998. Four candidates were nominated to the position of Executive Vice-Chairman - Emil Scuka, the chief spokesman of the Romani Civic Initiative, Zdenek Gudzi, Karel Holomek and Monika Horakova. The candidate of the majority of Roma for the vice-chairman's position is Emil Scuka, a member of the Council for Nationalities and chief spokesman of the Romani Civic Initiative, said Ivan Vesely, who stands at the head of the Romani Democratic Congress, at a press conference. Vesely was pushing Scuka for the vice-chairmanship of the commission because he's on the right while the other candidates are on the left.
Viktor Dobal didn't express any opinion about this news and simply stated that the position was filled by appointment and not by vote, and therefore a definite decision depended on the selection procedure, which was due to end by December 15. The final word belonged to Minister Pavel Bratinka and the Chairman of the Commission, Vaclav Klaus. Besides the vice-chairman position, it's necessary for the Roma to fill another six positions in speciallist groups on the interdepartmental commission having to do with, among other social areas, employment, entreprenuership, criminality, and discrimination against Roma in the Czech Republic.
Ivan Vesely, as well as Emil Scuka, described as natural the fact that Roma are differentiated socially and politically like the majority society, so it isn't possible to expect them to hold a similar standpoint towards everything. They were reacting to the fact that Roma representatives met for such a long time and were not unified in nominating candidates. (CTK, November 18, 1997)
From the results of a survey by the Insitute for the Study of Public Opinion made public on November 20, it was revealed that, of the national minorities living within the Czech Republic, Czechs have the best relations with the Slovaks, with whom 70 percent of respondents get along well. The Roma are held least favorably by Czechs, with only seven percent of those asked expressing good will towards them. At the same time, the attitde of Czechs towards other national minorities has improved slightly since 1993.
Then on November 22, the second anti-racism protest on Old Town Square in Prague changed quickly into an anti-government protest, though its initiator, Fedor Gal, had envisioned it as a quiet, candle-lit protest. The stimulus for the event was the murder of the Sudanese student Abdelradi and the demonstrators held signs condemning racism, fascism, and the republicans, but also the inaction by the police and administration in fighting racially-motivated crime. The originally quiet protest shortly broke into cries of "Stop fascism", "We are one race", and "[Chairman of the far-right Republicans Miroslav] Sladek is a fascist". After that, a young man from Socialist Solidarity appeared with a megaphone and, in a short, read speech, accused the government of permitting the growth of unemployment and social problems which aroused feelings of frustration in society and played into the hands of racism and fascism. After a short discussion with the participants, who didn't want to change the demonstration into a political, anti-government one, an invitation was issued for anyone who wanted to to come to a demonstration at the foot of Wenceslas Square. The entire demonstration was carried out without incident.
With the awarding of prizes to Romani children on November 24, the children's literary contest in the Romany language, which allowed children to express themselves in their mother tongue, came to a close. The contest was announced in the spring by the Nova skola (New School) foundation. From then until June, 100 children up to the age of 15 from 35 elementary and special schools in the whole republic sent in their work on the theme of "My Family" or "What Interesting Thing Happened."
To the writing contest was linked an artisitc one, in which 300 pictures from non-Romani children were collected. The best of them were included as illustrations in a collection that was distributed among the participants and advisors of the contest. The collection, which contains 43 literary works in Romany with Czech translation and had a printing of 400, was sold out.
The authors of the best written contributions and illustrations were awarded their prizes by the American ambassador to the Czech Republic Jennone Walker and the President's wife, Dagmar Havlova (pictured), invited them to Prague Castle, where she showed them around the Spanish Hall.
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