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Analysis: Apartheid and segregation are being applied to Romani schoolchildren in the Czech Republic

24.3.2016 2:03
Petr Uhl
Petr Uhl

Romani children comprise almost one-third of the pupils who now attend schools previously referred to as "special schools" (zvláštní školy) even though less than 3 % of the population of the Czech Republic is Romani. That fact was reported by the international human rights protection organization Amnesty International (AI) in February in a report entitled "Must Try Harder - Ethnic Discrimination of Romani Children in Czech Schools".

According to AI and many other reports over the last 20 years, including those which I authored or signed off on as the Human Rights Commissioner to the Government of Czech Prime Minister Miloš Zeman (1998-2001) and which the Czech Government has either taken note of or actually adopted, Romani children continue to be discriminated against in schools in the Czech Republic. AI found that Romani children also grapple with discrimination in mainstream education and that the Government is failing to come to grips with anti-Romani bias, which is deeply rooted in Czech society.

"Widespread segregation of Romani children is a horrific example of systematic bias. Schools lead children toward hateful discrimination from an early age," AI Secretary-General Salil Shetty said of the report.

He considers this problem to be a very deep one. However, the then-Education Minister Marcel Chládek rejected AI's report last April.

Without making a single argument to prove it, the minister said the report was based on untrue information. Czech Prime Minister Sobokta proposed on 29 May 2015 that he be removed from his post, which Czech President Miloš Zeman did on 5 June.

The Constitution is clear on that point (and unfortunately, only on that point). I raise this just to make sure nobody gets the wrong idea and thinks our President might be somehow unable to back a minister who engages in moralizing about "inadaptables" - I say this with irony, very bitter irony, because during the time of German National Socialism (Nazism) the "inadaptables" (who in German were called the unanpassungfähig) were physically annihilated in the concentration camps.

Sobotka gave rather vague reasons for removing Chládek and did not say anything about discrimination against Romani people and segregation in education in that context (and it likely never even crossed his mind). That former minister's support for the existing segregation in the "practical schools" and in mainstream education, as well as Zeman's own gallant, permanent repugnance for the education of all children together (inclusive education), are doubted by nobody - who would dare?

Czech schools have been the subject of international criticism for 20 years

A significant portion of my agenda as the Czech Government's Human Rights Commissioner was comprised of discrimination against Romani people generally and the discrimination against Romani children and their segregation in the schools in particular. Most members of Zeman's cabinet back then were traditionally "Czech", i.e., conservative and nationalist, and they did not take kindly to the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms or to our international obligations in the area of modern European human rights protections.

It was difficult for me to get the Government to even acknowledge the mere fact of the discrimination against Romani people, which is a prerequisite for its gradual elimination. However, several times I was able to get that fact through to Zeman, thanks to less conservative cabinet members such as Pavel Rychetský, Jan Kavan, Miloš Kužvart, Pavel Dostál and Vladimír Špidla.

Zeman's cabinet inherited its machismo and paternalism from all the preceding Governments of 1898 - 1998, i.e., from the time of the Cisleithanian administration of Prince Franz Anton von Thun und Hohenstein. However, I had an effective remedy against such a Czech tradition:  The threat that "we" (i.e., the Czech Republic), would not be admitted into the European Union "like this", as was mainly being threatened by France and Germany.

This was just before the republic was admitted into the EU, and Zeman's cabinet was greatly desirous of achieving that aim. The cabinet saw the essential prerequisites for economic prosperity in the EU, in its Schengen area as a common space for the free movement of people, goods, and ideas, and in the euro as the common currency.

I would like to be fair to that former cabinet:  They also saw EU membership as necessary prerequisite for social progress. It was not until later that the Czech Republic's relationship with the EU was narrowed down to merely drawing on EU funds.

However, even back then, the imperative of the common European values of democracy and the rule of law were pushed for by just a minority of cabinet members. Also back then, the director of the Department of Special Education at the Czech Education Ministry was a man named Jiří Pilař, who is an anti-inclusionist.

That is what we currently call those opposed to the modern education of children, which means an education that is as desegregated, inclusive and non-discriminatory as possible. Pilař back then was actually a troll guarding hidden treasure.

Eduard Zeman, the Czech Education Minister in Zeman's cabinet, was even more traditionally "Czech" than Pilař. The two Education Ministers (one for the Czech Social Democratic Party and one for the Greens) who took office after him never had enough courage or strength to remove Pilař from his post.

That did not happen until 2008, and it was done by Czech Education Minister Ondřej Liška (Green Party). In March 2010, he recalled that decision in a blog posting on Aktuálně.cz as follows:  "Mr Pilař (…) for more than 10 years directed that department of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, and it is possible to unequivocally date the tendentious denial of any problems and the failure to solve them back to the time he took office, both in terms of the education of Romani children in the 'special schools', which resulted in the Czech Republic losing before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, and in the high numbers of children in institutional care, for which the Czech Republic has long been internationally criticized."

Pilař is today the vice-chair of the TOP 09 party's regional organization in Prague 6. He is also at the head of the professional association called the Association of Special Educators of the Czech Republic.

As chair of that group, he has been fighting against the "boundless inclusion" of current Czech Education Minister Kateřina Valachová, since he cannot fight openly anymore against inclusive education in general. The previous minister under whom he worked, Eduard Zeman, is working today at that ministry as "ombudsman" for education, a position without statutory powers that is undefined by Czech law.

The authorities won't pursue it further...

Another former director of the ministerial department that Pilař used to direct, Martin Odehnal, is also declaiming against inclusive education now from his position as head of the Department of Education and European Funds for the Prague 9 Municipal Department. He filed a motion with the State Prosecutor on 22 May 2015, one week before Sobotka proposed removing Chládek as minister.

In his motion, Odehnal sought an "investigation into whether the AI leadership has committed a felony". Please note, Odehnal (understandably) is not making any allegations - he's just asking.

He all but wrote "After all, I can ask" in his motion - just so nobody would get the impression, Heaven forbid, that he was making a false accusation. (That is a felony under Czech law.).

State Prosecutor Zdeňka Galková of the Prague 1 District State Prosecutor's Office, who correctly assessed the content of Odehnal's communications as constituting a report of a suspected crime, and who took action on the case and decided it, then wrote to Odehnal (as he bragged online) that from the documents he had sent her it could not be assumed that a felony had been committed and that therefore "the criminal justice authorities will not be pursuing this further and it will be shelved." That conclusion of hers was correct and logical.

As a justification for the decision, that might have been enough. Galková, however, also described the kind of suspected criminal activity by the AI leadership that Odehnal had wanted investigated.

Odehnal suspected the crime of false accusation, and the members of the AI leadership might have, in his view, committed this "by alleging the Czech authorities had committed the felonies of apartheid and discrimination against a group of people." The state prosecutor, however, also correctly stated that mere criticism of the Government's activity, or rather, criticism of the activities of state institutions and their employees, cannot be considered the perpetration of felony false accusation or any other crime.

…even though it's a demeaning slur

On 9 March 2016, news server Romea.cz reported that Galková was not content just to reject this motion. She also wrote that the AI report "evidently contains false, demeaning and distorted information presented as objectively determined facts" and that it was an "unfounded, unjustified, blunt criticism of the activities of state institutions and their employees, and ultimately... an unfair 'labeling' of citizens of the Czech Republic who do not belong to the Romani community."

This is what Odehnal was bragging about online. This opinion was not stated by Galková during a debate with her friends, nor was it stated as a blog post, but it was stated as part of a situation in which it could give rise to questions as to whether she is acting in accordance with the law on the public prosecutor.

After all, that law tasks her with "being obligated to shy away from anything in one's personal life and in the exercise of one's political rights, not just in the performance of one's duties, that could... undermine the seriousness of the public prosecutor or the seriousness of the prosecutor's office." She wrote this opinion as a state prosecutor doing her job according to the Criminal Code, which means it is a state decision.

When the Government meets in a cabinet session to make a decision, a similar opinion from one of its ministers does not constitute a state decision. A decision from a state prosecutor, however, if it is made in the course of the prosecutor doing that job, is a state decision.

For that reason, what Galková has written in her notification of her decision is in fact a state decision. To repeat:  She has written that the AI report "evidently contains false, demeaning and distorted information presented as objectively determined facts", and that it could be considered "unfounded, unjustified, blunt criticism of the activities of state institutions and their employees, and ultimately as an unfair 'labeling' of citizens of the Czech Republic who do not belong to the Romani community."

Disciplinary action against the public prosecutor

There are five persons needed to file a disciplinary action against State Prosecutor Zdeňka Galková:  The Justice Minister and the four public prosecutors who also perform the state administrative office of the public prosecutor - the Supreme State Prosecutor, the High State Prosecutor, the Regional State Prosecutor for Prague, and the Prague 1 District Prosecutor. I will be sending this text to all five of them as a motion for a disciplinary action against her.

A disciplinary offense is any breach of prosecutorial duty caused by a public prosecutor's behavior or conduct that endangers confidence in the activities of the prosecutor's office or in the expertise of its procedures, or that reduces the dignity and seriousness of the office of public prosecutor. According to the law on the public prosecutor, a prosecutor is supposed to perform that job "impartially, respecting and protecting human dignity and the equality of all before the law, and complying with the protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms."

When performing this office, the public prosecutor is required by law to "shy away from anything in one's personal life and in the exercise of one's political rights, not just in the performance of one's duties, that could... undermine the seriousness of the public prosecutor or the seriousness of the prosecutor's office." A public prosecutor is not allowed "in the performance of one's duties to allow oneself to be influenced by the interests of political parties, public opinion, or the media", not even by a civic association like the Association of Special Educators.

The public prosecutor must make sure that job is "performed impartially and without economic, social, racial, ethnic, sexual, religious or other prejudice and in relation to the persons with whom one performs one's functions, must refrain from personal expressions of sympathy, affection or negative attitudes." In her decision, however, Zdeňka Galková never provided any evidence of this alleged falsity, the "demeaning" information, or the unfair "labelling" described in her rejection of this complaint.

I have to get tough here

This blatant abuse of the public office of state prosecutor forces me to play hardball here. Not just AI and its report, but I too, on the basis of my experience as Human Rights Commissioner, serving other functions in the EU and UN systems, as a member of and participant in many civic initiatives over the last 25 years, and as an experienced journalist - I, too, assert that in the Czech Republic the persistence of the discrimination against and segregation of Romani children, with the aid of the "practical" schools and in mainstream education, is of such an extent and intensity that it leads me to conclude that differential treatment is being applied here in the schools to Romani children, compared to non-Romani children, and that the Romani children are being subjected, because of their actual or alleged ethnic difference, with the aid of state bodies, to degrading treatment.

In other words, apartheid and segregation are being applied in the Czech Republic. In this country there are several groups and other legal entities that are able to provide specific examples of this treatment to the criminal justice authorities.

One such example is the procedure undertaken by State Prosecutor Zdeňka Galková. A state body such as the Czech School Inspection Authority is another legal entity that could provide examples, such as the recent case of segregation at the school in Krásná Lípa that Romea.cz has also reported on.


Petr Uhl, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Amnesty International, Inkluzivní vzdělávání, Státní zastupitelství, Vzdělávání



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