Czech lower house refuses vote about denier of Romani genocide as vice-chair, Christian Democrats call for extraordinary session
The Chamber of Deputies decided not to vote on whether to remove the chair of the SPD party, Czech MP Tomio Okamura, from his post as vice-chair of the lower house because of his remarks about the former concentration camp at Lety u Písku. The head of the Christian Democratic (KDU-ČSL) legislators in the lower house, Czech MP Jan Bartošek, did not succeed with his motion to include that point on the agenda yesterday.
The motion to vote to remove Okamura had been signed by enough MPs to hold a vote, however. Bartošek announced he had garnered 86 signatures.
The necessary amount was 80, or two-fifths of the lower house. However, of the 169 MPs present yesterday in the lower house, just 70 supported the motion to include such a vote on the agenda.
There were 70 votes cast by members of ANO, the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM) and the SPD against even holding a vote. Speaking after the failed attempt, Bartošek reproached ANO MPs for behaving just like the Communists have in the past and contributing to the destruction of the country's political culture.
The Christian Democrat said that by abstaining or voting against the holding of a vote on the issue, the legislators in question were doubting the suffering of the people imprisoned at the Lety concentration camp. "In my personal view this disparages the suffering of those who died during the Holocaust," he said.
The vice-chair for the STAN faction, Czech MP Vít Rakušan, read the names of the more than 300 people who died at the Lety camp during the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia prior to voting in favor of including the motion on the agenda. " 337 reasons to remove the vice-chair of the Chamber," he said at the end of his speech.
Despite yesterday's outcome, there will probably eventually be a vote in the lower house on removing Okamura. The Christian Democrats and STAN want to convene an extraordinary session.
For that option just 40 signatures are needed. "We will take that avenue, then. It's a pity, but if that's what our colleagues want...," commented the chair of STAN, Czech MP Petr Gazdík.
Jan Bartošek, chair of the KDU-ČSL faction in the Chamber of Deputies, made the following remarks to the lower house:
I will now return to the order of the session and to the point I have attempted to include on the program. Once again, I thank all the MPs who have signed on to this point. It is necessary to realize that the atmosphere in society is changing, just as it is in the Chamber of Deputies, and things are beginning to be imaginable that we believed we would never return to here, at least until a little while ago. It is necessary to realize that by making it impossible for this point to be included you have made it impossible for Vice-Chair Okamura to explain himself or to apologize. It is necessary to say that the Vice-Chair of the Chamber of Deputies represents the Czech Republic in a high constitutional office and I have never heard his party distance itself from the remarks made by its former secretary to the effect that '"Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals should be gassed." It is also necessary to realize that the Vice-Chair of the Chamber of Deputies represents the Czech Republic during international negotiations. By voting against including this point on the agenda, or by abstaining, you have clearly endorsed his behavior. Similarly, you have cast doubt on the suffering of the people in the concentration camp at Lety, whether you call it a labor camp or anything else. In my personal view this disparages the suffering of those who died during the Holocaust, a million people, when you give official sanction to opinions that deny the suffering of these people during the Second World War, during the Holocaust. Dear members of the ANO movement, we are commemorating this February what happened 70 years ago [i.e., the Communist putsch], and by not signing in favor of holding a vote, you have shared with the Communist Party and with an extremist party a very special purpose indeed. In many respects you are behaving exactly like those Communists and you are contributing to the destruction of political culture in the Czech Republic. Thank you."
Okamura apologized yesterday to a meeting of ANO MPs for his remarks about the camp at Lety, which was intended and used for Romani prisoners. The chair of the SPD faction in the lower house, Radim Fiala, also addressed the meeting, calling the threat of a vote to remove Okamura a political tactic by the Christian Democrats to weaken the eventual support of the Communists and the SPD for ANO's minority Government led by outgoing PM Andrej Babiš.
After visiting the ANO faction, Fiala and Okamura communicated their message to the press. Both said they had paid a brief visit to the ANO meeting and then left it up to the strongest faction in the lower house whether to vote to remove Okamura or not.
Okamura said he had spoken just three sentences to the ANO MPs. "I said that I apologize for my inaccurate remarks and I explained that we have not cast doubt on the horrors of the Holocaust," he said.
Fiala referenced previous statements by the SPD to that effect. "We want to say what we believe and be certain that our remarks will be interpreted correctly. I said that this is a political fight sparked by KDU-ČSL, which is doing its best to weaken the SPD, ANO and Babiš," he said.
The chair of the ANO faction in the lower house, Jaroslav Faltýnek, then announced at a press briefing that the vast majority of ANO MPs agreed not to support the motion to vote on removing Okamura from the post of vice-chair of the lower house. Vít Rakušan, the vice-chair for the STAN MPs, then told the press that Okamura cannot be allowed to remain in any of the higher constitutional posts.
There are just six STAN MPs in the lower house. As for the vice-chair for TOP 09, Markéta Pekarová Adamová, she said Okamura is "known for his extreme, xenophobic opinions" and should never have become vice-chair of the lower house in the first place.
Signatures in favor of holding a vote were contributed by the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) and the Pirates in addition to TOP 09. The removal of Okamura, according to Czech MP Jan Birke (ČSSD), would be supported 14 of the party's 15 MPs.
The Czech News Agency reported that Social Democrat Jaroslav Foldyna refused to sign in favor of a vote. The party will be supporting a secret ballot on the issue so all MPs can express themselves freely, Birke said.
Birke also said he believes that the "diabolical coalition of ANO, KSČM and SPD," which had the main influence last year over nominating candidates for the posts in the lower house, would not work again. The KSČM, however, according to its chair, Czech MP Vojtěch Filip, would not support the motion to remove Okamura.
"I am convinced that Okamura has apologized and we do not have any reason to sign an initiative of the KDU-ČSL," Filip said. When asked why, he said he believes Christian Democratic representatives are in contact with "Sudetens" and that the half-billion crowns it is costing to move the pig farm that occupies the site of the former concentration camp at Lety is too much to pay.
"Responsibility lies with the ANO MPs. They either don't care about Okamura's remarks or they identify with them," Bartošek commented on the outcome.
ANO is the strongest faction in the lower house with 78 MPs. Should the lower chamber ultimately hold a vote to remove Okamura, it would apparently be the first time such a decision has been made.
The Christian Democrats are bothered by Okamura's remarks about the Lety camp and consider him to have cast doubt on the Holocaust. The party has also pointed out the remarks made by other SPD representatives in a similar vein about the events at Lety.
Okamura objects to that characterization. The SPD chair has claimed previously that the party does not doubt the suffering of those who were imprisoned in the Protectorate-era camp at Lety but objects to how the remembrance site there is being handled, especially to the way the state bought the pig farm there.
The SPD chair said last month that the camp at Lety had not been fenced and that people had been free to come and go from it. After those remarks were criticized as inaccurate, he apologized for alleging that there had been no fence at Lety and then immediately made another inaccurate allegation, namely, that the camp had not been guarded most of the time and that its prisoners had been allowed to move about freely on the grounds.
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