ERRC Deeply Concerned about Czech Prime Minister's Statements on Equal Opportunity
6 April 2007
The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) is deeply concerned about the Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek's adverse statements on equal opportunities for disadvantaged groups including women, the elderly and ethnic minorities. The ERRC once more emphasises the fundamental role of equal rights mechanisms and practices to establish a just, fair and democratic society.
Ironically, Mr. Topolanek's erroneous statements on equal opportunity came during his speech to launch the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All. According to Prague Daily Monitor's bulletin published on 2 April 2007, Mr. Topolanek said in his speech that, "No well meant effort to make equal that cannot be equal, no positive discrimination will guarantee the equality of opportunities. Positive discrimination sounds about the same as a pleasant beating." Although Mr. Topolanek's comments targeted mainly women, other groups such as the elderly, students, as well as ethnic minorities were part of his vision. He also attacked multiculturalism by saying that the money the state spends in multiculturalism, "must go to the assimilation of individuals, not in support of the chimera of multiculturalism".
It is obvious that Mr. Topolanek's comprehension of equal rights, equal opportunity and multiculturalism does not reflect the core values that this concept suggests. International law as well as European acquis firmly establish the equality of all persons regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status. In this respect, the idea of equality in accessing all services aims at securing this very fundamental right by eliminating unjust and unfair treatment accumulated throughout history. These practices do not give "privileges" to disadvantaged groups, such as Roma, but attempt to balance historical inequalities. Thus, equal opportunity practices aspire to create a climate wherein all members of society can participate in social and economic life on an equal basis with no hindrance.
Providing equal opportunities and rights to all citizens without discrimination is one of the pillars of the European integration process that all European Union (EU) Member States must comply with, including the new and old accession countries. It is extremely sad and worrying that the Prime Minister of a country that has recently joined the European Union misinterprets and misrepresents such an important concept as equal rights and opportunity. In this respect, it is the task of the European Union, the foremost political and social structure in Europe, to define and enforce the implementation of these practices, as well as to guarantee the compliance of all parties with this process.
Mr. Topolanek's mendacious statements demonstrate the need for the EU to improve the channels for communicating the fundamental concepts and practices of human rights, as well as to hold high-ranking public officials like the Czech Prime Minister accountable for public statements such as the one he has made, reminding him of his obligations under the various EU driven legislative programmes aimed at introducing, maintaining, and ensuring the twin principles of equality and non-discrimination in the EU member states.