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Czech Deputy Trade Minister's pay is docked after posting to Facebook that "Gypsies are like jellyfish - poisonous and useless"

15.9.2017 14:43
Karel Novotný of the Czech Social Democratic Party and his racist post to Facebook published on 14 September 2017.
Karel Novotný of the Czech Social Democratic Party and his racist post to Facebook published on 14 September 2017.

Czech news server Aktuálně.cz reported yesterday that Karel Novotný, the Czech Deputy Trade Minister who is running for Parliament for the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) in the Ústecký Region, has posted to Facebook the remark that Romani people are like jellyfish because they are, in his opinion, "poisonous and useless". He will be losing his quarterly salary as a result.

His boss, Czech Minister of Industry and Trade Jiří Havlíček (ČSSD), has called the remark unacceptable and distanced himself from it. He has also issued an official reprimand according to the labor code and issued a press release about it today.

The deputy minister posted the comment that "Gypsies are like jellyfish - poisonous and useless" during a discussion on Facebook happening on the profile of a group calling itself "Angry Mothers" ("Naštvané matky"), which frequently expresses opposition to immigrants, Romani people and sexual minorities. "I have spoken very openly with the deputy today about his insulting remark," the Czech Trade Minister's press release reads.

"I have communicated to him that his behavior has significantly harmed the good name of our ministry and that he has also violated the Ministry of Industry and Trade's rules of conduct, which includes a Code of Ethics for employees of the ministry. He will, therefore, today receive a reprimand according to the Labor Code and his quarterly salary will be withheld," the press release says.

"I have accepted his public apology for the remarks he made, but I have warned the deputy minister that if he ever repeats this behavior he will be immediately fired. Such remarks are incompatible with the position he holds at the ministry and I reject them in principle," the Czech Trade Minister said.

Novotný apologized for his post today and offered to resign. "I deeply regret that I let myself get carried away during a Facebook discussion and that I used defamatory language to express myself about the Romani minority. I am aware that such behavior is incompatible with my position as deputy minister and that I may have harmed the good name of the Ministry of Industry and Trade through my inappropriate behavior on social networks," his statement reads.

"I would, therefore, very much like to apologize to all who may have been harmed or insulted by my remarks. I am prepared to bear personal responsiblity for this and therefore I have tendered my resignation to Minister Jiří Havlíček," Novotný's statement reads.

Local colleagues don't see it that way

The chair of the Ústecký Region cell of the ČSSD, Czech MP Jaroslav Foldyna, said yesterday that he does not see the candidate's remarks as such a big problem. "Naturally he should express himself in decent terms," Foldyna told Aktuálně.cz.

"We cannot blame people just because they are of a different ethnicity or religious faith. However, we will not be investigating this," the regional head of the Social Democrats said.

"At the most I will call him and tell him to calm down when he is on Facebook," Foldyna said. He then went on to say that the reality in the towns of northern Bohemia is different than in Prague.

"I live with them [i.e., Romani people] in the same building," Foldyna said. "In Prague people are always playing at something and not calling things by their proper names."

"The frustration of the population with the ineffectiveness of social policy is enormous. Maybe the Deputy Minister unburdened himself of that opinion because the town of Most is full of such problems," the MP said.

This most recent racist Facebook post is not the first time Novotný has crossed the line since joining the Social Democrats in 1998. He served as Deputy Mayor of Most from 2010 to 2014.

In 2010, for example, his campaign billboards featured the controversial slogan "Why should I regret being a member of the national majority in my homeland? One state, one set of rules!"

"Politicians are playing the anti-Romani card because they know it will score them political points with some voters," Miroslav Brož of the Konexe organization said. "They have learned to exploit these moods in society during their campaigns, the rhetoric and style of which are reminiscient of a cheap version of the nationalist NSDAP [the National Socialist German Workers' Party - editors]."

In February 2014, Novotný became Deputy Trade Minister in charge of the section on business and consumer protections. He has been a political deputy since July 2016, when the ministry was still led by Jan Mládek.

The Industry and Trade Ministry currently has nine deputy ministers. Novotný is running in 13th place on the Ústecký candidate list for ČSSD in the October elections to the lower house.

ČTK, ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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