Czech civil society groups, Romani ones included, protest students inviting ultra-right candidate to debates ahead of elections
The Ústecký Parliament of Children and Youth (ÚPDM) is holding an event today entitled "Political Debate with Representatives of All Parties Running Locally" as part of a project called "Young People Vote". Tomáš Vandas, the candidate invited to represent the "Clean Ústí" movement, is also the co-founder of the ultra-right Workers' Party (DS), which was dissolved by the Supreme Administrative Court in 2010, and is still chair of its successor party, the current Workers' Social Justice Party (DSSS).
His participation has sparked a wave of outrage among civil society organizations. According to the debate organizers, the discussion is planned as a balanced political debate with an objective moderator.
"As part of today's political debate it was our aim to give room to as many political parties as possible who are running in our city. All these parties are authorized to field candidates and it is not our aim, as the ÚPDM, to condemn or deliberately select the parties who can or cannot participate," the organizers said in a statement earlier today.
"Banning and convicting is for the justice system. We hope our audience and our guests will comprehend our intentions. This is to be a balanced political discussion with an objective moderator, it is not our aim to disfavor or favor any party. We want to attempt maximum objectivity. Thank you for your understanding," the organizers said.
The organizers reached out to all parties running in Ústí nad Labem and nine of them will be attending the discussion: ANO 2011, Čisté Ústí ("Clean Ústí"), ČSSD (Czech Social Democratic Party), ODS (Civic Democratic Party), PRO! ÚSTÍ ("FOR! ÚSTÍ"), SPD ("Freedom and Direct Democracy"), SVOBODNÍ (The Independents), TOP 09 with KDÚ ČSL (Christian Democrats) and STAN (Mayors and Independents), UFO (Ústí Citizens' Forum) and Za lepší Střekov ("For a Better Střekov"). Representatives of those same parties, Vandas included, should also attend another pre-election debate that will be held on Monday, 1 October in the Public Hall of the Hraničář Cinema.
According to news server Romea.cz, students from a college preparatory high school in the city are organizing Monday's debate. The participation of Vandas in the debates has prompted a response from the Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust (VPORH), which said it is following the preparations for the students' electoral debate including the chair of the ultra-right party with alarm.
"On the basis of our historical experiences and our shared memory, we are warning those who will attend this debate and those who are organizing it against engaging in dialogue with such an exaggeratedly anti-Romani person about the political 'solutions' he claims to offer. All of us should already know from our history classes what those 'solutions' are and where they lead - there is no point in discussing whether they are right or wrong," said Čeněk Růžička, chair of the Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust, Czech Republic, in an official statement.
Mr Růžička also offered to organize debates and lectures for students on the subject of the Nazi "Final Solution" and its impact on Romani people with any secondary school in Ústí nad Labem. RomanoNet, a network of pro-Romani and Romani organizations, issued a statement reminding the public of the current atmosphere in the Ústecký Region, the escalating tensions there, the anti-Romani hysteria being expressed, and the parties that have based their campaigns on combating what they call "inadaptables", "parasites", "riffraff" or "vermin".
"We consider it a failure of the democratic political parties that they are not ashamed to sit at the same table with neo-Nazis to discuss their programs with them. We express our support for the civil society members in the Ústecký Region, non-Roma and Roma, who are taking a stand against electoral debates held with this kind of composition and scenario. We believe it is inappropriate for students to be exposed to the influence of neo-Nazi ideology," Romanonet said in a statement.
That organization is also offering to collaborate with students on instruction about democracy and multicultural society. The Institute of the Terezin Initiative (ITI) has also issued a statement about the debates.
The ITI has expressed its comprehension for the students' attempts to facilitate discussion by the parties competing locally, as well as the need to debate and refute the biased, tendentious or untrue allegations of people with extremist opinions, but also warned the organizers against the possible risks that are posed by such an approach. "The association called 'Clean Usti' promises things in their program that contravene the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Their representative, Mr Tomas Vandas, whom you are inviting to your debate, is a representative of the former Workers’ Party (DS), which was dissolved by a decision of the Supreme Administrative Court ... because its activities were illegal," the ITI reminds the students, adding that the debate will make it possible for Vandas to make allegations to the public that it will not be possible to verify on the spot while he is expressing his opinions.
"Moreover, [Vandas] will just stir up anti-Romani sentiment, of which society is already full. Also, we are concerned that the high school students will not be able to deal with moderating this debate so that untrue allegations are refuted – this is an immeasurably demanding task even for experienced, well- prepared journalists or moderators," the Institute emphasizes, asking that the students reconsider their decision.
Another open letter to the venue hosting Monday's debate, the Hraničář Cinema, was sent by the organization AMARE Předlice. "In recent years, Tomáš Vandas has disseminated hatred against our community and incited people against us, he has regularly organized anti-Romani demonstrations that have ended, in many cases, in assaults by fanatical crowds on Romani-inhabited buildings - and the only reason they were not burned down was because riot police prevented Vandas's Nazis from doing so," the letter says.
The organization reminds the public that other parties whose representatives will be attending the debate have also based their politics in large part on racist abuse of Romani people. "The political parties that are aiding with legitimizing the Nazis and their ideas by sitting at the same table to debate with them whether the 'solutions' the Nazis offer are bad or good are all unreliable, in our opinion," writes AMARE Předlice, calling on the cinema to "not let the Nazis into Hraničář."
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