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Czech SocDem head says xenophobic billboard must go, local farce continues

Most, 20.9.2010 18:03, (ROMEA)

The acting national chair of the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD), Bohuslav Sobotka, has met with party members in North Bohemia to discuss controversial billboards posted in the town of Most and has issued a statement claiming the advertisements will be removed. Local politicians, however, are interpreting the agreement differently. They say the slogan “Why should I regret being the majority nationality in my homeland? One state - one set of rules!” will merely be rephrased so as to make it invulnerable to allegations of racism. Lubomír Holý, ČSSD chair in Most, told the Czech Press Agency the billboards would just be papered over with a different version of the advertisement.

"On the basis of a decision taken Friday by the political leadership of ČSSD, I have agreed with the leading ČSSD candidate in Most, Karel Novotný, and with the chair of the party’s Regional Elections Committee in the Ústí region, Petr Benda, that the controversial posters will be removed by the local ČSSD campaign in Most. They will be taken down during the coming week,” Sobotka says in a press release issued yesterday.

In North Bohemian, however, the SocDems are interpreting that agreement rather differently. "We will not take down the billboards per se, but we will correct the text as much as possible,” Holý told the Czech Press Agency today. The new wording of the text should, in his view, be known today and will be sent to the ČSSD leadership for approval. "The agreement between our leader and the ČSSD leadership is that a correction would be acceptable,” he said.

The party in Most is counting on just papering over the slogan, not taking the posters down. "I have already spoken about this with Karel Novotný. We would like to work this out by Friday, we’ll see how quickly the company can paper it over, but it should only take until Monday at the latest," Holý said.

Petr Benda, the ČSSD regional head, also did not agree to the total removal of the billboards. "That is primarily a decision for the local organization. I gave them my opinion and I believe they will correct the slogan so it doesn’t negatively impact some groups. However, the content of the message should stay,” Benda told the Czech Press Agency without elaborating further.

Last Friday Josef Tancoš, vice-chair of the ČSSD branch in Most, said the xenophobic election billboards would be changed, only to later backtrack and insist the billboards would not be removed. Tancoš then confirmed his remarks to news server Aktuálně.cz: "We held a consultation and we will definitely continue the campaign as planned. No posters will be taken down."

The national ČSSD leadership believes the slogan could be interpreted in such as way as to damage the reputation of the party, currently the strongest in opposition, for some time to come. Lubomír Holý, chair of the Most branch of ČSSD, said the organization had decided to leave the billboards in place.

Holý said the local organization would follow the upcoming decision of the party’s district-level executive committee, which it has asked for permission to leave the billboards up. For the time being, there is apparently no deadline by which the committee is supposed to decide. Holý presumes the committee will meet as soon as possible, most probably at the start of next week.

Bohuslav Sobotka, the ČSSD acting national chair, said on Friday that “municipal campaigns are decentralized, not run from central headquarters, but we are one ČSSD, not a federation.” He also said ČSSD rejects extremist, intolerant statements based in nationality.

Karel Novotný, the party’s leading candidate in Most, and Petr Benda, the head of its North Bohemian organization, were supposed to have attended the Friday meeting of the national party executive. Instead that meeting was attended by Czech MP Josef Tancoš, the vice-chair of both the local organization in Most and the regional organization. The ČSSD executive demanded that both the regional SocDem organization and the district-level organization in Most instruct the local cell to stop using the slogan.

Even though Holý recently admitted the slogan is on the edge of acceptability, the local ČSSD is intent on using it. Holý said the slogan reflects the specific situation in Most. The town hall had reduced the rents being charged to a certain group of people living at the Chanov housing estate by 20 %, even though many of the tenants were in arrears.

This summer the town hall decided to return the rents at Chanov to their original levels. The rent reduction reportedly did not result in more timely rent payments, but in even more tenants defaulting.

ČTK, Gwendolyn Albert, Zdeněk Ryšavý, ryz, Aktuálně.cz, Czech Press Agency, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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