Czech Constitutional Court rejects complaint about hateful election campaigns, but agrees they were unethical
The Czech Constitutional Court has rejected a complaint by four Romani men living at the Chanov housing estate in the town of Most who brought the hateful slogans in the campaigns leading up to last year's local elections to the court's attention and who also applied to the Regional Court in Ústí nad Labem with an unsuccessful request to declare the election invalid. According to the Constitutional Court's communications, the court does comprehend why the men feel concern about and take offense over the direction of Czech electoral and political culture.
However, the court said it is impossible to address the breaking of ethical and moral norms through a judicial ruling involving the law on elections. "The fact that an electoral body decides to win votes by sparking fear and appealing to the lowest common denominator is certainly despicable from both a moral and social perspective, but it is not within the power of the courts to correct that behavior under current legislation," reads the court's finding.
The Constitutional Court also said it is the role of members of the public and opposition candidates above all to figure out how to address such controversial opinions and how to communicate their own attitudes on issues to the voters. If those who wrote the complaint felt that the speech used has no place in the public arena or might even border on Nazi ideology, they are able, according to the Constitutional Court justices, to consider filing a civil lawsuit for protection of their personality rights or to file a report for the crime of inciting hatred.
The four Romani residents of Chanov were specifically raising the 10-point platform of the "Association of Most Residents for Most" (Sdružení Mostečané Mostu), which included a point reading "We will build a village for the riff-raff." The association also had slogans such as "Inadaptables don't just need to be addressed, they need the final solution" or "If you don't know how to behave, you can't live with us" featured in advertising spaces.
In the Krušnohor Bulletin (Zpravodaj), a printed circular published by the Krušnohor Cooperative for Housing Construction, articles attacking Romani people were published at that same time. Another party, the "Open Town Hall - Most" (Otevřená radnice Most), disseminated fliers with the slogan "Poison alone is not enough for these pests."
The tactic was successful for the "Association of Most Residents for Most", which came in third in the elections, winning eight of the 45 local assembly seats. "Open Town Hall - Most" never passed the 5 % threshold to be seated.
As for their complaint to the Regional Court, the Romani plaintiffs claimed that by using such slogans, both groups had broken election campaign rules. The plaintiffs argued that the slogans were incompatible with democratic values and the rule of law and that they had sparked a strong wave of xenophobia in the town and feelings of fear and inferiority among persons of Romani nationality.
According to the Regional Court, however, the way in which these campaigns were conducted did not interfere with voters' freedom to decide. The court said it is not able to be a moral arbiter of the course of elections.
The Romani plaintiffs used arguments similar to those made to the Regional Court in their Constitutional Court complaint, stating that the election campaigns had strongly racist subtexts and that some of the slogans used were typical of the Nazi ideology. The campaigns, in the plaintiffs' view, influenced the atmosphere in society overall.
The Constitutional Court, commenting on the permanent judicial scrutiny of elections, stated that it is the people themselves who are the source of all state power and that necessary restraint must be exercised by the judiciary with respect to interfering in the electoral process. Court interference is possible in just the most serious cases, and those who question electoral outcomes must present evidence to the court and prove the association between the flaw in the electoral process and the election results.
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