Czech PM chooses his battles
Roma activists seek to create a new political party following the death of Stanislav Tomas, after his arrest by police in Teplice in June. Speaking at a rally in the nearby town of Usti Nad Labem over the weekend, activists said they hoped the Roma Luma party would participate in municipal elections next year.
Czech authorities say Tomas’ death was due to a drug overdose, and not linked to his arrest, in which a policeman was filmed kneeling on the detainee’s neck for more than six minutes. Protests in the Czech Republic and other European countries calling for a full and independent investigation continue.
As in many other European countries, the Roma minority in the Czech Republic, which represents around 2.5% of the 10 million inhabitants, has long suffered from discrimination and economic and social inequalities. However, the community remains isolated and fragmented, and has struggled to forge political representation.
It is clear that the community must help itself. The depth of prejudice in Czech society has made it difficult for traditional political parties to defend Roma rights. None of the country’s parliamentary parties raised a dissenting voice when Prime Minister Andrej Babis said two days after Tomas’ death that the police had acted quite correctly.
As the October elections approach, the populist prime minister appears to have decided that doubling down on prejudices is the way to go.
On Monday, Babis reiterated that he would not join the chorus of disapproval of Hungary’s anti-LGBT legislation, despite mounting pressure from Brussels to force Budapest to back down from a bill it calls “shame.”
The billionaire prime minister has told Czech lawmakers he will not sign a letter backed by 18 EU states supporting sexual minorities and protesting Hungarian law, which has been compared to draconian Russian legislation.
“I don’t know why I should do it,” Babis replied when asked in a parliamentary debate if he would sign. “I don’t know why we should interfere with Hungarian laws,” he said, before asserting that he has nothing against homosexuals – and even has homosexual friends!
Babis is also not keen on tackling global racism, with his government announcing this week that it will withdraw from the upcoming United Nations World Conference on Racism.
Several other countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, have also said they will not attend the Durban IV conference, which will be held in New York in September. The anti-racist event has seen boycotts regularly over its 20 years because of its criticism of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinian community, a palpable problem this year given the recent outburst of violence.
The Czech Republic has long been one of Israel’s closest European allies. In March, Prague opened an embassy in Jerusalem, offering significant support to Israel’s attempt to have the city, which the Palestinians also claim, recognized as its capital. The move came after the Trump administration controversially moved the United States Embassy to the city of Tel Aviv.
Czech Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek said the decision not to attend the conference was made due to “historic concerns about anti-Semitism and the misuse of the platform for attacks on Israel “, before pledging that the Czech Republic will continue to fight against racism and discrimination.