Deputy PM Cunek in hot water yet again after comments about Roma

02-04-2007

Deputy Prime Minister Jiri Cunek is in hot water once more. After last week persuading the prime minister to let him stay in government despite being investigated for corruption, Mr Cunek again stirred controversy when he made offensive comments about Romanies in a newspaper interview. Now coalition partners the Greens have called for his head. With the pressure ratcheting up, how much longer Jiri Cunek can hang on?

Jiri Cunek, photo: CTKJiri Cunek, photo: CTK Jiri Cunek made a public apology on Sunday, after coming in for a wave of condemnation for statements he made about the country's Roma minority. Asked by a newspaper whether other people should receive state subsidies too, Mr Cunek said non-Roma would need to get a tan, cause chaos with their families and start fires on town squares before politicians would regard them as badly off.

It was a strange move, coming days after Civic Democrat Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek effectively gave him a reprieve, allowing Mr Cunek to stay in cabinet despite being under investigation for alleged bribe-taking.

That said, his words may not have been wholly surprising. After all, Jiri Cunek came to prominence for expelling Romany rent-defaulters from the centre of a Moravian town when he was mayor.

Getting back to Sunday's apology, it was not unequivocal, with the Christian Democrat chairman and regional development minister saying Romanies had not understood his remarks.

Martin Bursik, photo: CTKMartin Bursik, photo: CTK Within hours, coalition partners the Greens were calling for his head. The party's chairman, Martin Bursik said Mr Cunek's comments were insulting and unacceptable, not only for the Romany community but for all Czechs. He said they harmed the Czech government in particular.

Mr Bursik wants the prime minister to call a meeting of the leaders of the three parties in the coalition to discuss Mr Cunek's future. Coming on top of previous controversies, can the deputy prime minister continue to stand his ground? Political analyst Petr Just.

"None of the previous...things were solved yet. So combining altogether all the matters, all the conflicts, all the controversies around him...makes his position harder and harder. I expect there will be more pressure on him to at least temporarily leave the government, not only from the Greens but also from the Civic Democrats."

02-04-2007