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Commentary: Senator infamous for antigypsyist remarks about the "cikánská question" joins regional party in the Czech Republic

8.12.2020 7:39
Czech Senator Jaroslav Zeman. (2020) (PHOTO:  website of Jaroslav Zeman)
Czech Senator Jaroslav Zeman. (2020) (PHOTO: website of Jaroslav Zeman)

The "Mayors for the Liberec Region" (Starostové pro Liberecký kraj - SLK) political party has recently accepted Jaroslav Zeman as a member, a man who is an antigypsyist as well as an entrepreneur, mayor and senator. The party bragged about their new acquisition on their website, where they wrote practically everything there is to know about him except the fact that he has been pushing anti-Romani stereotypes for many years.

"Jaroslav Zeman has been a successful entrepreneur for years and the mayor of Albrechtice in the Jizera Mountains, while in the Senate he has always defended the interests of towns and villages and the people who live in the countryside. I'm glad he has decided to further collaborate with the SLK and has become our member," commented SLK chair Martin Půta.  

Zeman made his Senate bid on the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) ticket and also wanted to run for the SLK at the same time, which did not work out and led him to suspend his membership in the ODS. After that he supported the then-new ultranationalist Trikolora movement led by Václav Klaus, Jr, but never became a member.

Despite his new membership in the SLK, Zeman is still caucusing with the ODS in the Senate. His campaign slogan was "Whoever isn't working shouldn't be eating". 

Jaroslav Zeman's "perverse world"

In 2013, during a Senate debate, Zeman made generalizations about Romani people, alleging that "none of them" actually work. "I ask you, what am I supposed to say, as an employer of 200 people who pay taxes and go to work... while on the other hand the Roma, the cikánská community, don't go to work and just live off of our taxes...," he said, using the pejorative term on the floor of the upper house.

"If we don't force Romani people to work, their children will not go to school," Zeman falsely asserted during that speech. In an interview for the Parlamentní listy tabloid, and in hoaxes featuring excerpts from that interview, Zeman also alleged Romani people are "lazy" and that the state should not "give" them anything - or only if they begin doing something for the local authority where they live. 

"If they don't want to work, they can go lie down in a ditch. That's what I agree with...," is just one of the remarks he made during that interview.

Zeman also lamented the fact that single mothers are being paid low salaries while Romani people allegedly get special housing benefits worth CZK 9 000 [EUR 340] per month, yet another false generalization, since housing benefits are disbursed upon request to anybody who applies for them irrespective of skin color, and they are paid directly to the owners of the housing being rented, whether that is an apartment unit, a single-family home, or most frequently, a room in a residential hotel. Only the poorest of the poor can even claim such benefits. 

Naturally, Zeman also dislikes the nonprofits that provide aid to Romani people here, because in his view they are helping to form a "perverse world" by doing so. He makes all the generalizations that antigypsyists here are accustomed to reiterating. 

Instead of paying the single mothers working in his own factory decent salaries, Zeman wants to take money away from others so that they will have to live on the streets permanently and have even less opportunity of finding a job. The Senator runs a factory producing wooden toys in Jiřetín, the former TOFU facility, today called DETOA, and makes his living producing figurines of the mole character from Miler's animated films (Krteček) and other such animals. 

Romani people living in the north of Bohemia also used to work in such factories until privatization arrived here during the first half of the 1990s and manufacturing closed down for different reasons such as asset-stripping, lack of competitiveness, etc. Zeman served as mayor back then, so he has to know that. 

Suddenly there was no work in that region for anybody, to say nothing of Romani people. Yet those who do their best to provide aid to others are considered by Senator Zeman to have a "perverse view of the world", because unlike him they are not populist racists.

Toys won't save him

Zeman also shamelessly made the following statement in that same interview with the cesspool of "journalism" that is the Parlamentní listy tabloid: "The elections are coming up and the citizens should ask their elected representatives or the candidates what they will be doing with the cikánská question." In the 1930s and 1940s the Nazis "solved" the "Jewish question" with the concentration and extermination camps, and here we have a "cikánská question" that Zeman wants to "solve" today.  
  
The senator has not yet bragged about whether he will continue to use the methods of his predecessors or whether he will choose something innovative. No amount of cute little wooden moles or mice can make up for the stomach-turning nature of this rhetoric. 

It is, therefore, completely logical that Zeman is one of the many politicians here who have quoted the following statement falsely attributed to the Czech religious reformer Jan Hus, allegedly made in 1409, against Romani people: "Cikáni are an impure tribe, they have disgraceful morals, they are work-shy, they rob each other and they do not recognize God!" Of course, Hus was never quoted as saying any such thing, nor did he ever write any such thing.

News server Romea.cz refuted that hoax in 2013. According to Bishop Filip Štojdl of the Czechoslovak Hussite Church, "this is an abuse of the legacy of Master Jan Hus, a manipulation of his personage. Hus called for reconciliation in his teachings, for us to love one another and seek the truth, not to spread lies and hatred or to address matters through violence."   

Two opposing worlds

We sent an email to Kateřina Knopová, the manager of the SLK, asking whether the movement knew about Zeman's antigypsyist attitudes ahead of accepting him as a member. She responded several days later as follows: "When deciding to accept Senator Zeman into the SLK his work on behalf of towns and villages and against the centralization of power was all that was assessed. Judgment was not passed on any specific remarks he made and each individual bears responsibility for his own words."

"I do not know Jaroslav Zeman. However, I assume the SLK accepted him on the basis of his political and entrepreneurial experience. I have never said anything like what he has said and the same applies to STAN as a whole, because such statements contravene our values and program," the chair of the Mayors and Independents (STAN) party, Vít Rakušan, told Romea.cz.  

The SLK collaborates with STAN and its organizations but is a separate entity in legal terms, as the STAN chair reminded Romea.cz. STAN is in the process of agreeing on its shared candidate list with the Pirate Party for the upcoming elections to the Chamber of Deputies.

Representatives of both the Pirates and STAN are know for espousing human rights and are even able to advocate for minorities. We will learn how these two opposing worlds will continue to coexist after Zeman makes his next anti-Romani remark.  

František Kostlán, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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antigypsyism, Osobnosti, Politics, Racism



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