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August 16, 2018
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Czech Social Democratic head recommends removal of lower house vice-chair because of his deceptive remarks about Romani genocide site

12.2.2018 7:43
Milan Chovanec 11. 2. 2018 on Czech Television. (PHOTO: Česká televize)
Milan Chovanec 11. 2. 2018 on Czech Television. (PHOTO: Česká televize)

The acting head of the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD), former Czech Interior Minister Milan Chovanec, has said he will support removing the chair of the "Freedom and Direct Democracy" movement (SPD), Czech MP Tomio Okamura, from his position as vice-chair of the Chamber of Deputies when the legislature reconvenes. The Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL) are proposing the move because of Okamura's recent controversial remarks about the Protectorate-era concentration camp at Lety u Písku.

Speaking on the "Václav Moravec's Questions" program yesterday on Czech Television, Chovanec said he will be recommending the entire ČSSD club in the lower house also vote in favor of removing Okamura even though such an initiative is not likely to succeed without the votes of MPs from the ANO movement. Last month the SPD chair erroneously alleged that the concentration camp at Lety had not been fenced and that people had been free to come and go from it.

Okamura subsequently apologized for saying the camp had not been fenced but continued to allege that it had not been guarded most of the time and that people had been able to move about freely inside it. Those remarks have been criticized by the Jewish Community in Prague and the Museum of Romani Culture, both of which see them as constituting Holocaust denial.

Chovanec said yesterday that Okamura's remarks had crossed not just one line but "maybe five lines". The ČSSD chair also criticized the KDU-ČSL for attempting to score political points by announcing their intentions to the media instead of discussing them with other political parties ahead of time.

"If there will be a vote to remove [Okamura], I will vote in favor and I will recommend my club do so as well," the former Interior Minister said. Outgoing PM Andrej Babiš (ANO) said on Wednesday that Okamura had apologized, which he considers a sufficient end to the matter.

Chovanec recalled for Czech TV viewers the similar remarks made previously by Babiš himself and by former Czech Justice Minister Helena Válková (ANO), who told the media in 2014 that "not that much happened in the Protectorate". "What will be essential here is what stand the ANO movement takes," Chovanec said.

Without ANO votes, the KDU-ČSL initiative will fail, the former Interior Minister said. A vice-chair of the Chamber of Deputies can only be removed from that post on the basis of a written motion supported by a minimum of two-fifths of all lower house legislators.

Czech MP Jan Bartošek, the head of the KDU-ČSL in the lower house, said yesterday on the "Partie" program of the Prima television channel that he sees a chance of finding the necessary 80 signatures. Support can be anticipated, according to Bartošek, from the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), the Mayors and Independents party (STAN), and TOP 09, while some ČSSD legislators and the Pirates have spoken in favor of the motion as well.

Czech MP Pavel Kováčik, the head of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM), said he will not make any recommendations to the other MPs in his party, who can join the initiative if they like but are not obliged to. The chair of the Security Committee in the lower house, Czech MP Radek Koten (SPD), said in a debate on Czech Television that the KDU-ČSL just want to show off with their motion to remove Okamura.

Koten also repeatedly rejected the labeling of his party as extremist. "The moment you want to tell the truth you end up in some report," Koten said when asked why the SPD movement had been mentioned in the Czech Interior Ministry's report on extremism for the fourth quarter of 2017.

agw, ČTK, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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