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International journalists shocked by Czech MP's comments about finance minister

Prague, 16.7.2013 15:55, (ROMEA)
Czech MP Michal Babák
Czech MP Michal Babák

International journalists living in Prague are either shocked by the remarks made last Sunday by Czech MP Michal Babák (Public Affairs - VV) about Jews and the state coffers or consider them to be a sign of dilettantism. Rob Cameron, BBC correspondent in Prague, and Hans-Jörg Schmidt, correspondent for the German newspaper Die Welt in Prague, said that if something similar were to happen in Western Europe, the politician would have to either resign or at least leave the party. Gustavo Monge, the correspondent for the Spanish wire service EFE, called Babák's comments cheap, populist, and rude.

Speaking on Czech Television on Sunday, Babák spoke about his party's position on paying off the state debt of the new Czech Finance Minister Jan Fischer and made no secret of his antipathy for Fischer's predecessor, Miroslav Kalousek (TOP 09). "Don't take this as racist, but no Jew could be worse for the state coffers than Mr Kalousek was," he said. The MP has since said he does not see anything wrong with his remarks.

"I'd say that in Britain an MP who made such a remark would have already retracted everything and apologized by now, or he would have already resigned, or he would have been kicked out," Cameron wrote, saying such vocabulary has no place in European politics and is only used by extremist parties. "I consider it proof of his dilettantism and political desperation."

Schmidt's reaction was similarly harsh. He called Babák's remarks shocking and said he believed the politician should be immediately removed from his party's caucus in Parliament at the very least "unless VV is campaigning for potential voters from the right-wing extremist fringe."

Monge said Babák's statements were unworthy of an elected official who is mainly supposed to strive for the social good and social reconciliation. "His remarks were populist, rude, and tactless. Completely cheap. I believe many careerists have entered the Czech political scene recently who are primarily interested in personally enriching themselves and that's how they behave," he said, adding that Babák's scandal is not taking place in isolation. Monge does believe Fischer's non-transparent financing of his recent presidential bid should provoke a critique, but not a cheap or ironic one. He said in Spain similar remarks would prompt a wave of objections, but "heads would probably not roll".  

According to the head of the VV faction in Parliament, Czech MP Kateřina Klasnová, the party is not planning to exclude Babák. She said she would investigate the controversial remarks further should her party colleagues suggest it, but she believed Babák had already sufficiently explained them.

Babák said Sunday that he is sticking by his remarks and does not see anything racist about them. In his view the term Jew is not offensive and he claimed to have Jewish roots himself. 

"Those who automatically consider that word an insult are the ones who should reflect on their own assumptions. I just highlighted a generally known characteristic, the art of handling money very well, which has historically been attributed to the Jews, as we all know from jokes - I could have been saying the word 'Pole' or 'dachsund'," Babák said.

The MP went on to say he believed many orthodox Jews did not consider his statement to have been offensive. "Moreover, that remark was unequivocally aimed against Miroslav Kalousek and his handling of the finance ministry,"  Babák said. 

According to the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic, however, Babák's remarks reflect old antisemitic stereotypes, will further radicalize the political scene, and constitute an incitement to anti-Jewish prejudice in Czech society. "This kind of pandering to a voter base unequivocally corresponds to the position of an extremist party," the organization said in a statement issued today. 

According to Schmidt, similar remarks are made with surprising freedom in the Czech Republic, but people in Germany are particularly sensitive to them. The journalist recalled another Czech politician's previous reference to "the night of the long knives" and said that while open antisemitism is rare, it still exists here beneath the surface.  

ČTK, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Antisemitismus, Média, Politika, Židé, Czech republic



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