Images of several Czech Romany families setting up home in a Toronto airport were aired by Canadian television over the weekend. On Wednesday, Czech authorities said the last of those pictured had moved out from the airport to a nearby town, but the images have fuelled speculation that visa restrictions may well be reintroduced for Czechs traveling to the North American state.
The Czech media is regularly ranked as one of the freest in the world, but recent events have called into question how well that freedom is utilised where political extremism is involved. Stemming from a number of heavily publicised incidents in recent weeks, many people are asking if it’s in fact media attention that’s actually feeding the occurrence of right-wing extremism. This week’s Talking Point discusses the events that have brought the journalists themselves into the spotlight.
A seminar on extremism in Prague has indicated that many Czech towns and
municipalities would welcome advice from experts on how to fight extremism,
the ctk news agency reported on Monday. Some of the mayors present
suggested the Interior Ministry should have an expert on extremism on its
staff who would advise them how to legally ban extremist events. Past
attempts to do so have frequently been overturned by courts of law, on the
grounds that they are poorly justified. The Interior Ministry is currently
preparing a manual to help municipalities cope with extremist activities.
The former government of Mirek Topolánek approved a strategy to fight growing extremist in early May, and the Interior Ministry is currently in the process of setting up a team of experts to fight extremism.
Relations between the majority population and the country’s Romany minority are perceived to be deteriorating. According to a poll conducted by the CVVM agency 85 percent of respondents –both Roma and non-Roma - said that relations were at their lowest ebb in the past decade and that coexistence was problematic. A growing number of Czech Romanies are once again seeking asylum in other states, predominantly Canada, saying that they fear for their safety amidst growing racist violence in the Czech Republic. An arson attack against a Romany family in which a two-year-old girl nearly burnt to death, has further heightened tensions.
Three Romanies were sentenced to four years in prison on Friday for a
racially motivated assault on a 35-year-old man. Two of them brutally beat
the victim in a town outside Karlovy Vary in western Bohemia in December
2007, repeatedly calling him “a white swine”. The third man, who was a
policeman at the time, was convicted of trying to cover up for them and
obstructing the investigation of the case. Two of the men appealed the
verdict on the spot.
The men faced sentences of up to ten years in prison but the court did not consider the attack to be attempted murder. The victim gave evidence under protection and will be given a new identity.
With the elections to the European Parliament coming up, political parties in the Czech Republic are trying to get their issues to the fore. Out of the sidelines of that effort however another issue has commanded attention over the last month and that is the problem of extremist political organisations and their presence in the media.
The Czech Interior Ministry is setting up a special team to fight growing extremism in the country. Jiří Komorous, the former head of the National Anti-Drugs Squad, who is to take up the post of deputy interior minister as of next week, has been entrusted with the task. Komorous said on Thursday he was in the process of assembling the anti-extremism team which would include police officers and members of the military. More information on the team and its activities is expected within a week.
In related news, the Green Party called upon the director of Czech Television, Jiří Janeček, to resign over the airing of the commercial. The television removed the commercial after a wave of public condemnation and has since filed a lawsuit against the National Party. Czech Television stated on Sunday that neither the television nor its director comments on what politicians say during the course of their pre-election campaigns. Czech law compels broadcasters to run all commercials for political parties, however other laws prohibit the dissemination of fascism and hate speech in the media.
Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer has criticized the appearance of racist
ads in campaigning to the European elections, saying that his cabinet would
make the fight against extremism one of its top priorities. Public
broadcasters Czech Television and Czech Radio have both refused to
broadcast racist advertisement slots from the far-right National and
Workers parties. The ads promise “a final solution to the gypsy
problem” and contain slogans such as “Stop black racism” and “no
favouring of the gypsies”. Both broadcasters say they are filing charges
in connection with the ads. As public broadcasters they are obliged by law
to broadcast the election slots they receive from all parties running in
the European elections.
Prime Minister Fischer said on Wednesday his government would seek a ban on the far-right Workers’ Party. A request from the previous government to have the group declared illegal was rejected by a Czech court.
Public service broadcaster Czech Television has sparked a major row by broadcasting a pre-election spot for the extremist Národní strana, or National Party. The clip provided a platform for the far-right group to express its hatred of the country’s large Roma minority. This included the shocking promise of “a final solution to the gypsy problem.” In the uproar that followed the broadcaster eventually gave way and said it will not screen the spot again, though its judgement has been called into question.
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