Central Europe Review: politics, society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 0, No 2
5 October 1998

Andrew Stroehlein C Z E C H   R E P U B L I C :
Cast Your Vote for Bigot of the Month

Andrew Stroehlein

The competition for racist bigot of the month in the Czech Republic is already red hot, and it is only the first week of October. Coincidentally, the two leading contestants at the moment are both from the Civic Democratic Party (ODS): Mayor of Usti nad Labem Ladislav Hruska and Deputy Chairman of ODS Miroslav Macek.

Candidate number one

Hruska got himself into the headlines once again last week by his racist approach to the infamous "Wall in Usti" which has rightfully sparked international outrage before. This time, Hruska met some of his international critics face-to-face when a group of experts from the Council of Europe came to look. The European experts rejected the building of the Wall in Usti, and they expressed dissatisfaction with Hruska's tactics in particular.

Of course, some of the Council of Europe's comments applied to wider society in the Czech Republic. The group's leader, Josephine Verspaget, said that Roma do not feel safe in the Czech Republic, that Roma are generally not considered a part of society and that Roma cannot rely upon their own government to protect them. She also said that she could understand why Roma want to emigrate.

But the group from the Council of Europe reserved its harshest criticism for Hruska himself. Another member of the group, Andrzej Mirga, criticised Hruska for obstructing the Council's investigations and refusing to release details of the Wall. Hruska "didn't even let us talk about the wall," said Mirga. According to Verspaget, the Wall in Usti was simply "segregation, a racist solution."

Perhaps the group should have known what to expect from Hruska, because even before they arrived in town, Hruska had denounced the Council's visit as needless interference in a local problem that had already been settled. Indeed, plans to build a wall were changed to plans for a two-metre high fence, he proclaimed.

By his difficult and unhelpful manner towards the representatives of a respected European institution concerned with human rights, Mayor Hruska has added further indignity to an already painful situation. By stubbornly defending what the Council of Europe has declared a "racist solution," Hruska has earned his nomination for October's racism poster child in the Czech Republic.

Candidate number two

In another giant leap backward for race relations in the Czech Republic, Miroslav Macek told reporters this week that he would not want to live in the same building as members of the Roma community. He tried to defend this racist position by referring to his "personal experiences" with dogs: "When you are bitten by a bulldog five times, the sixth time you see a bulldog, you are more careful." ("Kdy vas petkrat za zivot pokouse doga, tak, kdy poseste uvidite dogu, asi si pred ni date pozor.")

Just as a quick aside: imagine if, as an American, I said something similar about Czechs - "I've had five bad experiences with Czechs, so therefore they must all be evil." Trust me - after many years in the Czech Republic, I could easily think of five bad experiences at the hands of Czechs (including corruption, theft and assault), but I do not condemn ten million people for the acts of a few idiots.

Macek went on to say that the people defending the rights of minorities would find it more difficult to maintain their ideals if they actually had to live with them under the same roof. Do Czech politicians copy their scripts from politicians in the American South in the 1960s, or is Macek trying to capture the floating Republican vote for ODS?

Unfortunately, Petr Uhl, the government's commissioner for human rights (predseda Meziresortní komise pro zálezitost romske komunity a zmocnenec vlady CR pro lidska prava), while briefly noting that not all Roma could be judged on the basis of a few negative encounters, said that he did not feel it necessary to enter a polemic with Macek. That is an opportunity missed.

Uhl should have started an open polemic with Macek's racist babble. Uhl should have pointed out that human beings are not dogs and should not be judged as dogs. He should have told Macek publicly that racism is not acceptable in a civilised society. As the government's human rights' watchdog, Uhl should have taken a few bites out of Macek to make him more wary before he opens his mouth next time.

Uhl's failings to one side, Macek certainly deserves to sit next to Hruska as one of October's candidates for racist bigot of the month.

Vote today

So, which of these two, Hruska or Macek, should win the title of racist bigot of the month for October? Send me your votes now by e-mail. Please feel free to nominate someone else if you wish. I'll tally up the votes and announce the lucky winner at the beginning of November.

Andrew Stroehlein, 5 October 1998


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