Two weeks ago Ottawa imposed visa restrictions on Czechs after more than 1,700 Czech Roma, or gypsies, sought refugee status in Canada in the first six months of this year. That was a huge increase on the 650 or so in the whole of 2008, which was already a high figure. So, what led so many Czech Romanies to apply for asylum in Canada?
Police shut down a neo-Nazi event on Saturday, arresting two of the organisers. The men are suspected of promoting movements supporting the suppression of human rights and freedoms. They organised the private event at a pub in Pilsen, attended by some 50 right-wing extremists. Some 60 officers moved in to shut down the event after performers allegedly celebrated the neo-Nazi movement.
It wasn’t a very auspicious start, and it didn’t end very well either – Czech Television, the country’s national broadcaster, has confirmed that it’s withdrawing from the 2010 Eurovision Song Contest due to lack of public interest. The Czech Republic only made its debut in the competition in 2007, but its first three attempts have been disastrous – the most recent gaining the dreaded “nul points”.
Police in Prague have summonsed the heavy metal singer Aleš Brichta to answer questions about the allegedly racist lyrics of the title track on his new album Deratizér (exterminator). The song contains the lines “politicians are making idiots of everybody while gypsies are stealing bicycles in the street, it should be dealt with by an exterminator”. The rock singer denies that the lyrics are racist, saying he employed artistic licence. On Tuesday the far-right Workers’ Party issued a statement condemning what they called the media “humbug” surrounding the song. For his part, Mr Brichta said he had nothing to do with the Workers’ Party; he said their name was reminiscent of the Communist Party, and that such groupings held no attraction for him.
A week after Ottawa brought back visas for Czech citizens over the large numbers of Czech Romanies seeking asylum in Canada, the Czech government put out a report on the state of Romany communities in the Czech Republic for 2008. The report is bleak: Czech-Romany relations are bad, it says, and will be difficult to fix.
The town of Litvínov, northern Bohemia, wants to prevent Romanies from simultaneously obtaining social benefits in the Czech Republic and in the UK. The town’s deputy mayor, Martin Klika, said on Monday some Romany families applied for social benefits in Great Britain but regularly return to collect Czech benefits as well. Town officials are planning to contact their colleagues in Britain to find out about how many people might be abusing the welfare system.
An Ostrava-based support group, the Group of Women Harmed by
Sterilization, said on Monday that the last case of a Romany woman
sterilized against her will in the Czech Republic took place in 2007.
Spokeswoman for the group Elena Goralová said that the woman was now 40
years old, lived in northern Moravia and had four children. A social worker
allegedly threatened to take her children away if she refused to undergo
sterilization. Minister for Human Rights and Minorities Michael Kocáb
informed the government at its Monday session of the allegations.
It is generally assumed that coerced sterilization of Romany women took place in what is now the Czech Republic between 1959 and 2001. Several cases of forced sterilization have since been tried at courts but none of the victims have been compensated.
Czech history features many brave, pioneering women, such as the author Božena Němcová (1820-1862) or the politician Milada Horáková (1901-1950). But Czech society today is still very far from offering equality of opportunity. I met with Eva Kalivodová to discuss the work she does in the field of gender and culture. Eva teaches literature at Charles University, is a scholar of Gender Issues and edits a bi-lingual literary and cultural journal focusing on gender in the Czech context, One Eye Open/Jedním Okem. I first asked Eva if she thought the
In related news, the Romany community in Canada is filing a lawsuit against the Canadian immigration minister, Jason Kenny. The community is reportedly disconcerted by the minister’s claim that many among them are applying for asylum for no good reason, and thus complicating the situation for those truly in need of asylum in the country. According to a lawyer for the Romany community in Canada, the statement was an attempt on Mr Kenny’s part to influence the commission responsible for granting asylum, and has made it more difficult for Romany to have their applications reviewed objectively.
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