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June 29, 2022



Czech Public Defender of Rights says he is against "special treatment" for Romani people

20.7.2020 8:31
Stanislav Křeček in a report broadcast by the Prima TV station in February 2016 (PHOTO:  TV Prima).
Stanislav Křeček in a report broadcast by the Prima TV station in February 2016 (PHOTO: TV Prima).

The question has been raised recently of whether racism in relation to Romani people is a problem in the Czech Republic. According to the Czech Public Defender of Rights, Stanislav Křeček, discrimination against Romani people here is just a "marginal" problem.

In an interview with news server Seznamzprá (translated below), the ombudsman discussed his opinions of Romani people and their situation. The interview was a follow-up to his recent commentary in the daily Právo, and a previous response from to his commentary can be found here.

14 July 2020 interview with the Czech ombudsman on Seznamzprá

Q: "The labor of Black slaves in the past was a significant contribution to the creation of wealth in the USA. The same thing cannot be said about European Roma, under any circumstances," you have written in Právo in association with the "Black Lives Matter" movement. Does a member of an ethnic group have to "earn" his or her rights?

A: Under no circumstances. Those rights are given by the law, by the Constitution and such. You don't earn a right, you either have it or you do not.

Q: How are we to comprehend what you have written, then? That while the Black people worked for their rights on plantations, Romani people do not deserve rights because they were never slaves? [Translator's Note: Romani people were in fact enslaved in what is today Romania beginning in the 14th century, a situation that lasted until 1860].

A: I never wrote anything of the sort. Nothing of the sort is there. The problem is that Romani people have never managed to be integrated into European society, not anywhere in Europe, and that is the problem European civilization is dragging along together. Integration does not exist here, we are doing our best, in vain, to catch up, to do it, but for the time being we are not succeeding.

Q: Why, then, did you write about slave labor in assocation with Czech Roma?

A: There is nothing of the sort in what I wrote, there is no association between the slave labor of Black people and Romani people.

Q: You wrote about it, though: "The labor of Black slaves in the past was a significant contribution to the creation of wealth in the USA. The same thing cannot be said about European Roma, under any circumstances." Why did you write that?

A: Under no circumstances is there any association with any slave labor here. This is about the position of these minorities in different regions, it's not about anything else.

Q: Will you please answer my question about why you wrote that, then? How are we to comprehend this sentence of yours?

A: Again, I reiterate, the problem is the intergration of the Romani minority or ethnic Roma into European structures. There is nothing else to it here.

Q: You also wrote in your commentary that the legal position of Romani people is absolutely equal. Does that mean, in your opinion, that Romani people are not discriminated against in the Czech Republic?

A: Discrimination exists, just as in other parts of the world or in other states, but it decidedly is not a characteristic problem of Czech society. Definitely not.

Q: Is it a problem the ombudsman should address?

A: Yes. According to the powers entrusted in me by the Chamber of Deputies, the ombudsman does address discrimination, yes. However, according to what comes to us, this is not a problem, because people practically never complain about such discrimination to us, which is evidence of it being not such a problem for Czech society as some publicists allege. That power has been entrusted to us, we are involved with it, we have a special department for it, but an absolute minimum of the complaints people bring to us are about that. 

Q: Maybe that's because those complaints involve a minority. The ombudsman is somewhat a reflection of what the majority wants, after all, because he is chosen by the Chamber of Deputies from candidates proposed by the President and the Senate. Doesn't that mean you should defend the voice of those who are not well-heard even more?

A: Society doesn't work like that. Rights do not just belong to those who are heard. Everybody has the same rights. Being a member of a minority does not give you any other special rights than a member of the majority has. National minorities are something else, they have their own special position, by law, but most Roma are not concerned about that.

Q: When you wrote that the legal position of Romani people is absolutely equal, do you believe that is the case in reality, then? Isn't the position equal only on paper?

A: No. It is so in reality. Nobody prevents Romani people from doing anything whatsoever by law, they do not have different rights from the members of the majority society. That is absolutely, according to my own opinion, and according to the legal order, completely clear. There are no regulations discriminating against Romani people. I think this is absolutely apparent.

Q: I'm asking how things function in reality. Have cases of a Romani person being turned down as a tenant or as a worker because of his origin actually not made it to you as ombudsman?

A: I will repeat this for you once again: The complaints of discrimination that reach us are an absolute minimum. Naturally we encounter such cases, of course we address them, but they are a minimum of our cases, which is evidence of the fact that this is not a problem in Czech society. Naturally we have addressed a case in which a prospective tenant was refused the opportunity to see an apartment because of his ethnicity, but this decidedly is not any kind of mass occurrence.

Q: One more quote from your commentary for the daily Právo: "[...] if you [Roma] claim that nobody wants to employ you, then why don't you employ yourselves? Why don't you establish firms contributing to, for example, the beautification of housing in excluded localities? Do they not want to rent to you? Why not build your own houses and apartments like thousands of other non-Romani cooperative housing owners in this country?" How are we to understand that?

A: If we want Romani people to behave the same way as members of the majority population, then we have to want them to behave the same. I do not want segregation here, as Mr Moláček said (Editor's note: Jan Moláček, reporter for Deník N). On the contrary, I want Romani people to address their problems the same way the vast majority of the population addresses them. I do not want them to address their Romani problems separately. I want Romani problems to be the problems of all of society. If many people here have built cooperatives and such, then that is a way to solve this that is offered by the majority society and there is no reason why Romani people cannot participate in addressing problems in the same way that the vast majority of the Czech society addresses them.

Q: Romani people do participate in addressing their problems. However, your commentary sounds like it's saying: "If you want housing, build it yourself." That is apparently why the Deník N reporter wrote about segregation.

A: That is an absolute misunderstanding of this problem. I really believe he was wrong to write that.

Q: So you don't want some buildings for "whites" and other buildings for Roma in the Czech Republic?

A: The exact opposite is the truth. I want Romani people to address their problems the way all other Czech citizens address them.

Q: Why, then, do you advise them to "build their own homes" and "establish their own firms"? Why can't they be employed at ordinary firms and live in regular buildings?

A: Naturally, that is possible. If people create housing cooperatives and build their own apartments, then there is no reason why Romani people cannot also participate in addressing their housing problems that way. It is one way to address those problems. I am not saying they would have their own buildings. I never wrote any such thing, please don't put words in my mouth. On the contrary, I reject segregation. I want everybody to behave the same way, with the same rights, the same responsibilities, the same opportunities, the same approach on both sides.

Q: What are you doing so things will actually work that way, though?

A: We are doing what we can for that. We are dealing with citizens' complaints, we handle citizens' motions relating to this matter as the law instructs us to. If somebody has a right, then that person must also accept the responsibilities flowing from exercising that right.

Q: Which responsibilities do you believe Romani people are not fulfilling?

A: I'm not saying that. I'm just generally pointing out that there is no solution for a problem that would affect just Roma - these are problems that concern all of society. They must be addressed the same way all of society resolves them. This is not about segregation, on the contrary, it is about integration, so that Romani people behave absolutely the same way the majority society does.

Q: So Romani people can go ahead and contact you if they have been discriminated against?

A: Well, of course. Why just Roma though - all citizens can. You know, that's the problem. Why do you constantly set the Roma apart from the rest of society? All people have the right to contact us. Why just the Roma?

Q: Because you, Mr Ombudsman, told them that they have to "help themselves" in your article in Právo.

A: I never said any such thing. You're putting words in my mouth. I said they have to behave the same as all other Czech citizens do. I decidedly am not advocating for any special treatment or special approach. I reject that, even.

fk, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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