Czech Constitutional Court receives complaint about election campaign, proposals for "fertilization" of "gypsies" recur in local media discussion
Earlier this month the Regional Court in Ústí nad Labem, Czech Republic rejected a complaint filed by four Romani people asking that the outcome of the October local elections in Most be invalidated because of the anti-Romani election campaign conducted by the "Association of Most Residents for Most (Sdružení Mostečané Mostu - SMM). Attorney Pavla Krejčí, representing the four, filed a complaint in the matter with the Constitutional Court on 5 November.
"I was personally struck by a conversation I overheard between two young boys who were reading a flier from the SMM that read 'We will build a village for the riffraff'. One boy asked the other: 'Who is the riffraff?'" plaintiff Roman Šváb told news server Romea.cz.
"The other boy answered: 'You don't know? That's us, the Gypsies'," Šváb related. Romea.cz asked plaintiffs Peter Bažo, František Nisto, Radek and Roman Šváb and their attorney why they filed the complaint.
Q: Mr Bažo, you previously pointed out during the 2014 local elections in your town that there was vote-buying going on and you filed a criminal complaint about that. Those accused were, thanks to you, convicted, you acquired an audio recording of the former vice-mayor of Most, who was from the SMM, Jana Jeníčková, offering you a bribe to arrange for Romani people to vote for them. The trial in that matter did not end until May 2018. Jeníčková was given, along with Jan Hašek, a conditional sentence and they were fined. You waited for the court's decision for an entire four years. What was it like to wait that long?
Peter Bažo: I lived for four years in fear, it was a strain, but I always believed the court would be independent and just.
Q: During these most recent local elections you and your colleagues filed a complaint because the SMM used insulting, racist campaign slogans. What led you to file that complaint?
Peter Bažo: We were led to file the complaint by the fact that this year's campaign by the SMM was directly aimed against Romani people. We have a great deal of evidence that it was targeted against Roma. We told ourselves that if we didn't take action now, then nobody would! Because our children wouldn't be brave enough to do so by the time they grew up. Our children would unfortunately have been taught to live with the fact that they are second-class citizens of the Czech Republic. We asked ourselves what such political groups and parties are good for if they don't have anything else to offer their voters but this kind of evil, inciting hatred and racism? They are alleging that we Roma are parasites, unnecessary, unsuccessful... After I watched the "168 Hours" television program [about the SMM] I had the feeling we are returning to the 1930s, which my grandparents and parents have told me about. They told me about those atrocities, and this campaign by the SMM is similar to that. Unfortunately, during the interwar time, Romani people and other national minorities were unable to defend themselves. Today we have independent courts that we believe in, so we will defend ourselves now. Immediately after that "168 Hours" program was broadcast, specifically on 19 September 2018, we wrote an e-mail to the SMM and invited them to come meet us at the Chánov housing estate so we could give them an opportunity to express themselves further. We have proof of that. We also wrote to them several times through the Facebook profile of the association, but all that happened was that they blocked us. If the SMM had made a statement, if they had distanced themselves from what their press spokesperson said in that reportage, then we might never have filed suit. We are not glad to be dragging this through the courts.
Radek Šváb: I was personally struck by a conversation I overheard between two young boys who were reading a flier from the SMM that read "We will build a village for the riffraff." One boy asked the other: "Who is the riffraff?" The other boy answered: "You don't know? That's us, the Gypsies."
Roman Šváb: I decided to file this lawsuit for many reasons. One of them is concern about what the SMM declared through their press spokesperson [in 2016] about the need to "forcibly fertilize" Roma, [which is quoted] in that "168 Hours" reportage. The other reason was a quotation in the Krušnohor monthly that read: "If people improve animals and plants by breeding them, nobody stops it. When we want to do the same with people, then it's suddenly bad. However, everybody knows that beautiful blue eyes are very in demand at the clinics."
František Nistor: What led us to file another complaint? Everything that was the reason for filing it has already been said by my colleagues. I would just like to add that however the court decides, I will never regret taking legal action and I will do it again, any time. This complaint was not jut filed for Romani people, but for all people who are different, whether it be because of their skin color, their mental or physical disability, or their sexual orientation. They, too, could be the next target. Nobody anywhere in the world ever deserves discrimination and racism.
Q: The complaint asking to invalidate the elections that you filed as the legal representative of the plaintiffs against the town of Most was rejected by the Regional Court in Ústí nad Labem. Did you anticipate such an outcome?
Pavla Krejčí: We did not know at all how the Regional Court in Ústí nad Labem would position itself on this matter. Case law concerning the kind of flaws in the electoral process that we have objected to practically does not exist here. For that reason, however, the decision by the Regional Court in Ústí nad Labem essentially did not surprise me. The judges were in a very complex procedural situation and I absolutely respect their approach. On the other hand, their decision was not at all favorable to us, rather the opposite. From the decision it can more or less be deduced that the Regional Court in Ústí nad Labem considers the campaign by the SMM and by the "Open City Hall Most" (Otevřená radnice Most - ORM) parties to have been controversial. The judges even stated in their decision that they appreciated the attempts by my clients to address the entire situation and they consider it a motion aimed at cultivating the electoral process in Most, but they claimed to not have any way to address the situation within the framework of the law on elections.
Q: You decided to file a complaint with the Constitutional Court then. Why?
Pavla Krejčí: From the beginning I was agreed with my clients on this approach, and in our complaint we also advised the Regional Court of Ústí nad Labem of this. What happened in Most is so controversial that it has the potential for the Constitutional Court to review the entire matter. From my perspective, what happened during the ORM and SMM campaigns violated the basic principles of a democratic state and the rule of law. Just so your readers have some idea what that means, the subject of the review is the remarks made about the "forced fertilization" of Roma or about the opportunity to "breed" and to "adjust" people in clinics. People were labeled "riff-raff" or "vermin", and the [alleged] problem with them was not to be addressed, but "solved once and for all" - a "final solution". Sincerely, I cannot comprehend how anybody can let such words pass their lips and smile while doing so, to say nothing of the fact that some of these remarks were printed on fliers or used on banners for the campaign. This is not a situation where one candidate is telling another candidate that he's an idiot during the campaign and somebody then asks the court in charge of the elections to intervene. We all can probably sense the difference here.
Q: What are you asking the Constitutional Court to do?
Pavla Krejčí: We are asking that both decisions by the Regional Court in Ústí nad Labem be overturned and for a finding that the fundamental rights of my clients have been violated. At the same time, we brought it to the attention of the Constitutional Court that already in 2004 Parliament had been asked to amend the law on elections to include what are called pre-election protections, which would make it possible for the courts or other bodies to effect measures aimed at restricting the occurrence of similar flaws in the election process prior to the voters casting their ballots. During the last 14 years, of course, no such provisions have been enacted, even though pre-election protections through the courts are an absolutely common component of other European countries' legal codes. In our motion we draw attention, for example, to the rather high-quality legislation in Poland that facilitates the confiscation of flawed campaign materials or a ban on the dissemination of incorrect communications. We are, therefore, asking the Constitutional Court to consider whether the right to pre-election protections might not be possible to infer on the basis of Article 36 paragraph 1 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms. The situation has, from my perspective, become even more striking after the recent amendments to the election regulations where, as of 1 January 2017, the standards for review of elections have become more stringent. In that respect it even seems to me that some constitutional rights are absolutely without means of recourse to court protection, which is unacceptable.
Q: Gentlemen, the SMM has accused you of not filing this complaint on your own but of being manipulated into filing it, they are alleging that somebody in the background has pushed you to take this step? How did this decision come about?
Peter Bažo: We reject that accusation. It also insults us. Why would anybody believe that as Romani people we don't have our own minds and opinions, that we need somebody else to push us to do something? If anybody suspects that this entire scandal was come up with by anybody other than us, and if that person has evidence for those allegations, then they can ask the police to investigate. We would be very glad, it will make an easier job for us of this eternal explaining that actually, nobody has financed us to do this.
František Nistor: They are insinuating that the idea for this didn't come from our own heads. Especially the SMM candidates. On their social media profiles they are disseminating lies about our having been coached, that this is not our idea, that we have done this under pressure because somebody else ordered it. That's ridiculous. People from Most, however, are not paying any attention, because nobody listens to them anyway.
Q: Ms Krejčí, what led you to decided to represent these gentlemen free of charge?
Pavla Krejčí: I decided that in this case I will not ask my clients for any remuneration. The clients are doing the entire case for the purpose of protecting other citizens of the town of Most and the electoral culture in general. It did not seem correct to me to ask them for any remuneration in such a case. I sincerely admire these gentlemen for getting involved, because few people are willing to take such a step. Whatever has been necessary was no problem for them to arrange on their side and they have not regretted investing their spare time.
Q: It's one thing to file a criminal report and complaints against the campaign, which means asking for certain repressive measures against these political entities, but is there any other option for how to take action against such anti-Romani campaigns?
František Nistor: Unfortunately there is not, because the Czech Republic does not have laws that would address this problem. It would be good if it were possible to draw attention to such a campaign before the elections are held. Certainly that would prevent having to file a criminal report and the eventual repetition of the election. It would be good if the Czech Republic introduced something of that nature.
Q: Mr Bažo, what was it like during the local elections? I'm not assuming that anybody would have allowed themselves to approach you with such an offer, but nevertheless, did you note any vote-buying at the Chánov housing estate or anywhere else in Most?
Peter Bažo: No, I did not hear of any vote-buying, I certainly would have brought it to the attention of the Police of the Czech Republic if I had. On the contrary, this was the first election in a long time during which nobody attempted to bribe us to get the Roma to vote for them.
Q: Do you feel there is any pressure on you after filing your complaint? Has anybody attempted to intimidate you or anything like that?
Pavla Krejčí: No pressure has been exerted in my direction. As an attorney I cannot allow myself to succumb to any pressure.
František Nistor: We are not sensing any negative pressure or personal attacks - besides the fact that they're insinuating that this complaint was not our idea. If anybody believes differently and has evidence, they should file a criminal report. All the people to whom we have shown the evidence used in our lawsuit, to whom we have explained why we filed it, says we are doing a good thing and some have even called us heroes. What is also amusing is that some people believe we filed our criminal report just because of those two words, "inadaptables" and "riff-raff". It actually is not because of those two words. All people who are even the slightest bit rational comprehend that no court would ever have admitted a lawsuit of that sort, including the Constitutional Court.
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