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Czech presidential candidates Dienstbier, Fischer, and Zeman debate human rights

Prague, 8.8.2012 17:22, (ROMEA)
ilustrační foto

This evening the first-ever debate between presidential candidates who will be directly elected took place in Prague. Jiří Dienstbier, Jan Fischer, and Miloš Zeman discussed human rights in the Václav Havel Library. The candidates expressed their opinions on civil society, the fight against racism, quotas for female politicians and the adoption of children by LGBT people. The event was put on by the Prague Pride association, which is organizing a festival of sexual minorities of the same name as well as a pride march.

Fischer said the public should have the opportunity to participate in shaping policies and should be included in decision-making. If he were elected president, he said he would call on the ministers more than his predecessors have and pressure them to address problems. Zeman said he would welcome a change to the electoral law so that people could vote not just for the candidates of one party, but could choose them from more than one party. He also agreed with Dienstbier that the preferential vote limit for representation in parliament needs to be lowered.

Dienstbier is not in favor of legislating quotas for the increased representation of women in politics or as the leaders of institutions, but does believe political parties should have more women in them. Zeman said he was once in favor of party-level quotas for women and now tends towards a "broader concept" of that issue. Fischer disagrees with quotas but said it is necessary to "publicly denounce" discrimination.

Dienstbier said he had supported the law on registered partnerships from the beginning and lobbied for it. The ban on adoption by registered partners bothers him. In his view, the interests of the child should be paramount. Zeman doubts whether gays and lesbians should adopt children, but said that if the interest of heterosexual families in adoption has been exhausted, then gay and lesbian parents should get a chance to adopt children so they do not have to be institutionalized. Fischer said it is necessary that the Czech Republic "deal with" the law on registered partnership as soon as possible and discuss the issue. He admitted that he is still forming an opinion on it. "My opinion used to be rigid, but I am getting to the point where I can imagine [LGBT adoption]," he said.

Jiří Hromada, who has led the gay rights movement in the Czech Republic for years, said the candidates were avoiding answering questions about LGBT minorities, which is why he asked whether, as a gay man, they accepted or merely tolerated him. Dienstbier said he neither accepted nor tolerated him but considered him a person. Zeman claimed to sincerely not care and to tolerate him as a person who had succeeded at something. Fischer said the question about Hromada was irrelevant but added that tolerance is never enough and that it is necessary to accept the members of all minorities.

There were a few clashes between the candidates. Dienstbier reminded Zeman of some of the unfulfilled promises of his time as prime minister. Zeman called Dienstbier's remarks the "below-the-belt hokum of an ambitious candidate". Zeman wore sunglasses during the entire debate and told the audience it was not to show his inborn pessimism, but because he had recently undergone a cataract operation. Fischer told the audience members he envied them because they could sit there in shirtsleeves or t-shirts, as it was rather hot to be wearing a suit.

Audience members shook their heads in disagreement over some of the answers given, but were amused by others. "I know something about that situation, I lived with a human rights minister for 14 months," Fischer responded when asked what he thought of re-establishing the cabinet-level post of Minister for Human Rights and Minorities. Many gay activists in the audience laughed in response. Fischer led a caretaker government for 14 months when the Human Rights Minister was Michael Kocáb. When Fischer mentioned women asserting their rights as "a career, if you will forgive me", some audience members expressed disbelief and surprise.

ČTK, Gwendolyn Albert, Czech Press Agency, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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