24. 10. 2004
Defensive nationalism, Czech-style
The Budapest-based European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) has criticized the coercive sterilization of Roma women in the Czech Republic, offering evidence that the sterilization program continued well into the 1990s. The Center has requested that the Czech authorities thoroughly investigate the cases of nine women in particular. But Zdeněk Škromach, the Czech Minister for Labor and Social Affairs, has dismissed the ERRC report, arguing that it contained “stereotypical and unfounded formulations and information.”
Outgoing Czech Human Rights Commissioner Jan Jařab has acknowledged that a lack of informed consent in the Czech health-care system has been a problem, but downplayed race as a factor. None of the affected women has received any government compensation and not one of the cases has been investigated by the Czech authorities.
It is no secret that many Czechs have a problem with the Roma. A few days ago, the Czech News Agency (ČTK) reported that Roma activist Ondøej Giòa was given a suspended sentence by a Czech court for alleged financial irregularities. When this news item was published on the Internet sites of Czech daily newspapers, it provoked a barrage of racist hate speech. Perhaps the most remarkable attacks against the Roma population appeared in Lidové Noviny’s on-line debating forum. “Why don’t we use Theresienstadt [Terezín, a concentration camp] anymore?” asked one anonymous reader. Another recommended the use of Zyklon B gas. “Romanies should be cut up and processed into dog food,” opined yet another contributor.
Last month, former NATO Secretary-General George Robertson successfully sued the British Herald newspaper for an undisclosed amount as compensation for an anonymous reader’s slanderous remark about him, published on the Herald’s Internet forum, although the newspaper apologized and removed the offending comment. Yet in the Czech context, racism is allowed to flourish on the Web pages of leading newspapers, even though it contradicts the law against propagating hate speech. It cannot be easy for Roma to live in a country whose citizens publicly recommend that Zyklon B gas be used against them, even if said allegedly in jest.
Fabiano Golgo, a Brazilian anthropologist who lives in Prague, has tried to explain to his readers on the Internet site Britské Listy that the underlying problem of the Czech-Roma relationship seems to be the incompatibility of two respective social value systems and the refusal of each to tolerate the values of the other. He pointed out that, just as many Czechs don’t like the habits of the Roma, many foreigners are not necessarily enamored by some Czech habits, such as their tendency to smoke in enclosed spaces and rather infrequent showering. Predictably, this has provoked a wave of angry e-mails.
Surely if the Czechs — as the more entrenched ethnic group in the country — showed less prejudice and became more relaxed about other cultures, including the Roma, would not the Roma eventually become less hostile or “antisocial”?
Would not many problems be solved if Czechs relaxed somewhat about their immutable cultural values? Would that really threaten their national existence?
Originally published in Czech Business Weekly HERE
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|24. 10. 2004||Defensive nationalism, Czech-style||Jan Čulík|
|27. 9. 2004||Gross means it: politics without policies||Jan Čulík|