Czech Supreme Court president fires spokesperson for anti-Romani remarks
Pavel Šámal, president of the Czech Supreme Court, is dismissing Petr Knötig, the head of the public relations department and the court's spokesperson, as of today. Šámal informed the Czech News Agency of his decision in a telephone interview.
One reason for the dismissal is remarks about Romani people made by Knötig on a social networking site, although Šámal said he has been dissatisfied with the spokesperson for some time. Reporting by the Center for Independent Investigations and RESPEKT magazine over the last few days revealed that Knötig has photographed himself at the courthouse holding a firearm and referred to Romani people using an ethnic slur in an online discussion about a series of photographs of Romani children playing near a fountain in Brno.
Knötig has been the spokesperson for the court since 2007. He told the Czech News Agency today that he does not believe he has done anything wrong.
"It is simply unbearable for such a person to work for the Supreme Court at all, not to mention in the position of press spokesperson," Šámal told the Czech News Agency, adding that he will be traveling from Prague to Brno today to dismiss Knötig. "I would like him to leave the Supreme Court entirely," he added, saying that he had previously expressed dissatisfaction with the spokesperson's work after taking office.
Knötig posted the following remarks to Facebook beneath photos of a newly-reconstructed fountain in Brno showing mostly Romani children playing in the water: "Chicories, all chicories. All it would take is to leave one police patrol there to drive them away, the officers could also patrol the surroundings."
The Supreme Court spokesperson also participated in a harshly racist discussion that unfolded beneath the photographs. Others participating used expressions such as "filth", "garbage", "monkeys" and "stinking gypsies".
The other discussants also expressed regret that the fountain was not running with gasoline that might be set alight, or with sulfuric acid. The fountains style of geysers shooting water directly from the ground are not unique to Brno, but can be found, for example, in London near the Olympic Stadium.
There, too, the fountain serves mainly as an attraction for children. Knötig ultimately erased his posts from the online discussion.
Today he told the Czech News Agency that his remarks had merely expressed the view that it should not be normal for a fountain to be used for bathing that might possibly result in damage. "That applies to everyone irrespective of religion, sexual orientation or skin color," he said.
Knötig also said he considers the expression "chicory" to be a Brno slang term for ethnic Roma and does not believe it is offensive. "I distinguish between whether people are decent or not, and it's all the same what majority or minority they belong to. I have many acquaintances who are ethnic Romani and I don't have any problem having a good time with them because they are decent and friendly," he said.
The spokesperson also said he does not consider it to have been a mistake for him to have participated in the online discussion about the children - and claims he no longer remembers what other people posted there. Why, then, did he erase his own contributions?
"I didn't want a debate about it," he explained to Respekt.cz. Šámal was sent a print screen of the online discussion with the spokesperson's posts before they were erased.
"I am horrified that our press spokesperson is participating in this kind of obviously racist discussion," the Supreme Court president told Respekt.cz, having previously told the magazine he would address the issue with Knötig at the beginning of next week. One day later, the Center for Independent Investigations published a photo of the spokesperson at the courthouse holding a shotgun, and Šámal said Knötig would not be continuing - "He's fired."
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