European Roma Rights Centre: Czech President's remarks were antigypsyist hate speech
Yesterday the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) sent an open letter addressed to Czech President Zeman and objecting to recent comments he made about Romani people when he was speaking last week in the Olomouc Region - Zeman alleged that exactly the Romani residents of the particular community he was visiting constitute their population of unemployed people, which the ERRC believes was a racist characterization. Zeman went on to allege that during the communist regime, Romani people "had to work" and were imprisoned if they refused to do so.
The ERRC believes Zeman's comments pose a danger to democratic values, in addition to being racist. The Office of the President has since rejected their characterization of his remarks.
Zeman was quoted by the media as saying the following exactly one week ago during a public appearance with other officials in the town of Kojetín: "I am decidedly no friend of communism, but during communism Romani people had to work. Most of them worked as ditch-diggers, and if they refused to work, they were designated as work-shy and went to prison."
"In addition, there was a kind of system there, that the Romani labor platoons were led by Romani men who had natural authority, so if somebody on their team didn't work, they slapped him around. It's a very humane method that worked most of the time," the President said.
The ERRC believes those allegations are an obvious manifestation of hatred and racism. "Your abusive rhetoric, designed to stoke fear and racist resentment, poses a direct threat to democratic values and the security of individuals and communities," the open letter states.
The letter also calls on Zeman to resign for having decided to use such rhetoric, but his spokesperson, Jiří Ovčáček, has rejected the ERRC's complaint. "The President's remarks are not in any way racist," the spokesperson told the Czech News Agency yesterday.
Zeman had also alleged during his public appearance that the current 5 % of local residents unemployed in Kojetín were its Romani residents in particular. He then went on to add that in his view, the solution would be to stop disbursing welfare to those who "refuse" job opportunities offered to them, unless they have a serious reason for doing so, such as a health condition preventing them from being able to perform the work.
The ERRC's letter notes that the number of Zeman's racist remarks against Romani people while he has been President has now set a new record. The organization recalled, for example, the President's previous allegation that 90 % of the "inadaptables" in the Czech Republic are of Romani origin.
The term "inadaptables", the organization noted, seems to have entered official use in the Czech Republic in 2015; Zeman's first term in office began in 2013. The ERRC believes this development is extremely dangerous because, in their view, it is an attempt to justify intolerance of Romani people.
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