Back to India, back to Fascism
No Czech political administration has successfully dealt with the Romany question. Problems associated with this national minority—low levels of education, high unemployment, indebtedness, crime and drug addiction—not only remain unsolved, but in some parts of the country they are even deepening.
Instead of changing laws or finding a systematic solution for the Roma community’s problems, some politicians have tried to sweep the problem away. A typical example is the intervention of current Minister for Regional Development Jiří Čunek (Christian Democrat, KDU-ČSL). While he was mayor of the Moravian town Vsetín, he moved problematic Roma families from the town center to villages around Jeseník in Moravia (see “Čunek: Savior or populist?” CBW, Nov. 27, 2006).
But others are proposing more drastic actions. The extremist right-wing National Party (NS) wants to move Roma back to India, the country that long ago was the origin of the nomadic Roma.
“In India, for those who do not understand statements about the need to responsibly approach one’s life, pieces of land will be bought and even supplied with basic infrastructure. India and the Roma will get large financial resources for this transfer,” Petra Edelmannová, chairman of the National Party, told CBW. The money that the state pays for moving the Roma will be recouped eventually in terms of savings in social payments and other monies that the state would no longer spend, she added. “And there, among people they are historically, culturally and socially close to, they can show how long they can maintain this predatory way of living. However, this trip does not include the possibility of returning,” she said.
This plan is a part of a study about the “final solution” for the Romany question in the Czech Republic. National Party members want to run for office in the upcoming October regional elections, but Edelmannová claims that this study is not part of their election platform. “If you speak about the study on the solution of the Gypsy question in the Czech lands, it is not a program or election issue for the National Party, but a basis for a project for the final solution of this problem,” Edelmannová said.
The National Party does not hide its motivation for its plan. People from the National Party call Roma “Gypsy rubbish that is not equal to other people.”
Reason for a ban?
However, the plan is quite controversial because it evokes the program of Nazis during World War II known as the final solution of the Jewish question, which ended with the organized murder of approximately 6 million Jews in the Holocaust.
The National Party plan has more parallels to the Holocaust. Heinrich Himmler, one of the main architects of Holocaust, originally proposed removing “racially inferior” people to other countries. The plan eventually evolved into one for mass exterminations in gas chambers at concentration camps.
The National Party’s plan has drawn interest from the Ministry of the Interior (MV), which is considering the possibility of imposing a ban on the party. “Their program is a serious reason for re-examination of legality of this party,” said Minister of the Interior Ivan Langer (Civic Democrat, ODS0. But it does not seem that the MV will opt for such radical solution as Langer also said that “the imaginary bowl of patience has not reached the brim yet.”
It is clear that within the Roma community there is a strong resistance to the National Party and its plans, although some people just laugh at the idea of relocating the Roma to India. Others take it more seriously. “We cannot laugh at it. It is dangerous as it reminds us of the Germans and Jews during World War II. Many Roma are afraid of what can happen in the future, and they want to leave this country,” Eva Bajgerová, a member of the Government Council for the National Minorities, told CBW. Bajgerová said that some people have already started to sign a petition against the National Party. “However, I have not seen it yet and don’t have any further information about this petition,” she added.
Experts on right-wing extremism have different opinions on how serious the policy of the National Party could become. Ondřej Cakl, a member of the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Tolerance and Civic Society (TOS), said that the state should act more vigorously. “There have been reasons for imposing a ban on this party for a long time. Their Web pages are strongly racist. If they wrote ‘Jews’ instead of ‘Roma’ in their program, there would be an enormous roar. But there is not much action. [It is] as if racism against the Roma did not matter,” Cakl told news server iDnes.cz.
According to political scientist Miroslav Mareš from the Faculty of Social Studies at Masaryk University (MU) in Brno, South Moravia, the National Party is just trying to provoke society so that it can gain media attention before the autumn regional elections. Mareš said he thinks that the Ministry of the Interior would hardly find a reason for imposing a ban on the party as the party says that the transfer of Roma to India would be voluntary. The process of banning a party is also quite complicated. “The ministry cannot impose a ban, it can only file a proposal to the government, and the government can propose the ban to the Supreme Court,” Mareš told CBW.
He claims that if the Supreme Court turned down this proposal, it would help the National Party. “There is an example from abroad. The failure of the process to impose a ban on the National Democratic Party of Germany (NDPD) in 2001 was followed by several election successes for this party. Therefore, I think that the state should monitor [the activities of the National Party] in the long term, and eventually [present] evidence of a clear and serious breach of the law.”
Political scientist Jan Charvát from Charles University in Prague agreed that the National Party wants to provoke people and draw attention. “In the long term, the National Party works with presumption that people in Czech Republic will listen to such anti-Romany statements. So far, this tactic has paid off to them. In my eyes, their program documents the mental capacity of the authors, and does not seem to merit my deeper contemplation,” Charvát told CBW.
Charvát also said he thinks that the state would not impose a ban on the National Party. “We can expect a revival of the discussion about banning the National Party, the Ministry of the Interior will make some statements, the media will concentrate on this issue … but that is exactly what the National Party wants—to attract media attention at any price by assuming that even negative advertising is advertising.”
More activity of right-wing extremists
The Ministry of the Interior admits that in recent years the activities of extremist groups are more radical, but the changes should not be perceived as a potential security threat. “Much like in 2006, and also in 2007, there were activities that would signal a real threat to the democratic basis of the state. Generally, it can be said that disunity persists within the Czech extremist spectrum, guided by the absence of strong personalities that would be able to address the wider public and gain its support,” the Ministry of the Interior states in the report Information About the Problems of Extremism in Czech Republic in 2007.
The ministry refers especially to demonstrations in Brno, South Moravia, and Prague by the neo-Nazi group National Resistance. Both demonstrations were prohibited by the city councils and in both cases police had to intervene against the participants in the demonstrations. The May 1, 2007, Brno demonstration had 500 Czech and Slovak right-wing extremists. Shortly after the demonstration began, the City Council prohibited it. The participants did not follow the ban, and police had to intervene. Another demonstration, a march in the Prague’s Josefov district, which is the location of several synagogues and Jewish sites, took place Nov. 10, 2007. Organizers learned from the failure of the May protest and announced the demonstration under the name of a cover organization called Young National Democrats. The result was very similar to the protest in Brno.
Although the police were quite successful in intervening against these demonstrations, the Ministry of the Interior admits that intervention will not resolve this problem. “The neo-Nazi groups found a new theme. They started pointing out [the restrictions on] the freedom to assemble and freedom of speech in Czech Republic. The police intervention has awakened strong negative emotions in them. These emotions can lead to another radicalization, aimed especially against the police and left-wing extremists,” the Ministry claims.
Political scientist Charvát said he thinks that bans are not a good way to solve these problems and he’s against making adjustments to laws that would mean the restriction of the freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. “If we read the problem of right-wing extremism as a question of objectionable symbols, gestures or words, we can think that it is possible to solve it by bans. However, the problem of right-wing extremism is not in symbols but in attitudes and opinions. But we cannot ban them. We must contradict them. And that is what we are not doing,” he said.
According to Charvát, the only defense against these attitudes lies in teaching people to appreciate plurality. People should have personal involvement and express clear civic and human attitudes. “This is the only way to reach the level when people will not join the right-wing extremists, as they will know for sure that their postulates are completely wrong, their arguments are not true and their aims are repulsive,” Charvát told CBW.
He admits that the right-wing tendencies in the Czech Republic are increasing, but he claims that it’s just “an optical phenomenon.” According to him, activities of political parties like the National Party or Workers’ Party are not changing much, these parties are trying to work on their public relations in efforts to media gain attention, but their influence is very small. “What has changed recently is the activity of neo-Nazi and neo-Fascist groups. Groups like the National Resistance and the Autonomous Nationalists started to support the activities of the Workers’ Party and, thanks to that, the Workers’ Party can organize demonstrations for 300, not 30 people.”
The real power of these parties is limited, and their results in elections range around 1 percent of votes. So experts claim that they would not be able to gain real political power and get seats in the Parliament or even posts in the Cabinet. “The danger is in the continuous impeachment of the basic values of the current society. It is also possible that these parties will attract so much attention of media that some of the established political parties will decide to take over some [issues] from their agenda. This has happened, for example, in France,” Charvát warned.
Less crime of extremists
Although the activities of extremists are increasing, the number of crimes against various minorities has been falling. According to the Ministry of the Interior’s 2007 report on extremism, the number of crimes with extremist overtones was markedly lower in 2007 than in 2006. In 2006 there were 248 crimes; in 2007 it was only 196, a decline of 21 percent. There was also a 25 percent decline of the number of criminals, some 242 persons in 2006 and 181 persons in 2007. The most crimes were committed in Prague, which had 44 crimes and accounted for 22.4 percent. In North Moravia there were 40 crimes, or 20.4 percent, and South Moravia accounted for 29 crimes, or 14.8 percent.
“The victims of verbal and physical attacks were especially Roma who are the most visible minority in Czech Republic. The victims were also foreigners with a darker skin color, with Asian or other origin. Other people potentially endangered [by extremists] can be members of various minority groups and immigrants, drug dealers and drug addicts, people with different sexual orientation, pedophiles and also homeless people, who are called the ‘waste of society,’” the Ministry of the Interior said in its report.
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