Czech PM says his Vice PM is "leeching off of" anti-Romani sentiment and crossed the line into Nazism
Yesterday Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD) said that his Vice PM and Finance Minister, Andrej Babiš, who heads the ANO movement, has decided to "politically leech off of" the Czech Republic's problems regarding coexistence between non-Romani and Romani people prior to the upcoming elections. Sobotka's statement was a response to remarks made by Babiš about the WWII-era concentration camp at Lety by Písek where Romani people perished and from which they were sent to Auschwitz.
News server Aktuálně.cz reported on Thursday that during a visit to an excluded locality in the North Bohemian town of Varnsdorf, Babiš said people who "didn't want to work" had been sent to Lety. Sobotka said that remark indicates that Babiš has crossed the thin line between populism and Nazism.
Sobotka posted his statement to Facebook. He wrote that during two and a half years in the coalition Government he has never before noticed a single instance of Babiš taking any interest whatsoever in the issue of socially excluded localities.
The PM also said that the ANO movement has been doing everything it can to delay the design of a law on social housing that is the only way to end the current practice of some housing benefits being abused by unscrupulous landlords. He called the Finance Minister's visit to the Romani locality last week "targeted election theater".
"It's just a question of whether during that visit Andrej Babiš intended to draw media attention in the style of US presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign, or whether he merely forgot to control himself and said what he actually believes," the PM said. A photo journalist for Aktuálně.cz also said that during his Thursday visit to Varnsdorf Vice PM Babiš allegedly said it was a "lie" that Lety had been a concentration camp.
"It was a labor camp. Whoever didn't work, bam! They were there," Babiš allegedly said.
Sobotka said yesterday that the Vice PM's remarks denied both the Romani victims of the Holocaust and documented historical facts. He also said that during the visit to the Romani locality Babiš drew an untruthful historical parallel of which the representatives of the Nazi Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia or today's extreme right would consider themselves proud.
"There is a very thin line between populaism and Nazism. I am concerned that the Finance Minister has now crossed that line with these remarks. The person who wields an absolutely unique concentration of economic, media and political power in our country has now demonstrated that nothing is sacred to him in his quest for votes," the Prime Minister posted to Facebook.
Sobotka has called on Babiš to apologize and to learn some history. "If I were in his place, I would travel to Lety and spend a long time bowing my head before that monument to the children, men and women whose lives either ended at Auschwitz or who were ill-treated in the inhumane conditions that prevailed at that camp," the PM said.
Babiš did apologize for his remarks about Lety during ANO's launch of its electoral campaign in Ostrava yesterday. However, he also asserted that he had just expressed himself poorly and that his words had been taken out of context.
Some Czech politicians, including Czech Human Rights Minister Jiří Dienstbier (ČSSD) have called on the Vice PM to resign over his remarks about Lety. The chair of the TOP 09 party, Miroslav Kalousek, said that if the PM does not dismiss Babiš by this coming Tuesday, TOP 09 will propose including his dismissal as an extraordinary agenda item on the program of the lower house next week.
The camp at Lety by Písek was first created as a labor camp but later served during the Second World War as a place for the internment of Romani people, whom Germany's Nazi regime considered to be on the same level as Jewish people. Just like Jewish people, the Romani people interned at Lety were then sent to the extermination camps at Auschwitz.
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