The ERRC is herewith distributing unchanged an open letter issued by Member of Parliament and ERRC board member Monika Horakova
02 April 1999
It is with great shock and sorrow that I read the recently released report on the Roma situation in the Czech Republic, published by the British Helsinki Human Rights Group (BHHRG) on March 28, 1999 (Hereinafter, the Report).
- Not only the content, but the tone of the report leads me to onder whether the authors had an ulterior motive, such as stemming the flow of Roma into Britain, by painting an unrealistic, rosy picture of conditions for Roma in the Czech Republic. I had thought that he Helsinki Group was a non-partisan body interested in exposing and helping to solve human rights buses in the world. This report caused me to question my previously held beliefs. However, I have ince learned that the BHHRG has no connection to the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights in Vienna. It is a disgrace that the BHHRG is using the good Helsinki name to mislead the ublic nto thinking that their racist propaganda is somehow affiliated with the well-respected Helsinki Group. As a Member of Parliament and a Roma myself, I have fought against these racist and stereotypical attitudes my whole life. When I think of the injustices I have personally faced: being denied access to ublic restaurants, being afraid to take public transportation, among others, and the far worse injustices uffered by many of my fellow Roma, I can scarcely believe that a report such as this could dare to lame he media for blowing the situation out of proportion. I shall outline my objections to this report as well as offer evidence refuting many of the Reports claims.
The report betrays its motives early on by stating that media reports have spurred the exodus of many Czech Roma to, countries like Britain or as far away as Canada. According to this report, by October 997 the Canadians had imposed visa requirements on all Czechs to stem the flow of unwanted Gypsy sylum seekers. This statement is misleading. The fact is that in 1998, seven hundred and thirty-eight zech Roma were granted political asylum in Canada because of the persecution they faced, as a group, n the Czech Republic. Only seventy-eight were denied political refugee status. In support of its ecision the Canadian government sited the facts that twenty-eight Roma had been killed in race-related attacks since 1990, and that there are believe to be over four-thousand Skinheads presently active in the zech Republic.The report goes on to say that governments in Britain and other Western countries have ailed to support claims by the Czechs that there is no systematic persecution of Gypsies in the Czech epublic. This statement alone speaks volumes. The British Helsinki Human Rights Group appears to e lone in supporting the claim that there is no systematic persecution of Roma in the Czech Republic. he eport then denounces Czech President Vaclav Havel for echo(ing) the views of those who charge that he Czechs are inherently racist. To my knowledge, Mr. Havel has never made any such sweeping eneralization of the Czech people. As for his statements that imply the Roma population is persecuted by representatives of the state like the police, I invite BHHRG to look over the many documents in my ossession supporting such allegations.
While it is true, as the Report states, that many people in transitional economies like the Czech epublic re suffering problems of unemployment, it is a mischaracterization to imply that this shows no discrimination against Roma in employment. I am outraged by the broad generalization made that, it is ssues like punctuality and reliability on the job as well as a tendency to move suddenly from place to lace since 1989 rather than a crude perception of Gypsies as petty criminals among Czech employers hich has tended to reduce their chances of employment in the post-Communist private sector. It is just uch racist stereotypes as these that keep employers from hiring Roma! I am appalled that such anguage appears in a report by a so-called human rights group.
The Reports treatment of the education of Roma in the Czech Republic is equally biased and isleading. he first sentence under the heading of education in this report says, It is widely believed that all Gypsy children are educated in schools for the mentally handicapped, the so-called special schools. This is untrue The language used obviously appears to try and compensate for a grossly misleading statement by remaining technically true. Of course, all Roma children are not in special schools. However, eighty ercent of Roma children go to these special schools. Roma students make up over fifty-percent of students in special schools while Roma comprise only two to three percent of the population of the Czech Republic as a whole. I am currently working on a project of education reform that will prevent Roma children from being systematically relegated to these inferior schools through culturally biased Quests. Your statement does a great disservice to these goals. Yes, there are some Roma children with difficulties in the Czech language, as well as some Roma children with other social or psychological handicaps. This does not explain the extraordinarily high percentages of Roma children in these special schools, unless of course the writers of this report believe there is something inherently inferior in the oma ethnicity. From the tone of this report, I fear that may be the case.
Further, the Report offers this solution to the problem of Roma children being relegated to special chools: the stigma of special schools could be reduced were they not presented as places for the mentally handicapped rather than (sic) for those with learning difficulties. Is this a serious suggestion? Change the name of the schools and all will be solved? This statement reinforces my impression that the authors of the Report agree that over eighty percent of Roma children deserve to be in these schools in he first place. The blatant racist stereotypes continue. BHHRG cites a school that should be a model or others of its kind in the Czech Republic. As I do not have any specific knowledge of this particular chool, I cannot comment directly on it. However, in praising this school, the Report gives examples of he problems faced by the staff, in addition to lack of funding.
Gypsy parents are often mbivalent about education: a child can suddenly be removed from the school without warning. It can e dispiriting, too, when a bright girl pupil moves to the gymnasium only to be removed by her parents hose custom is to have her working and usually pregnant by her early teens. These statement reify the tereotypes held by many about the Roma population and I am grief-stricken that they appear as factual tatements in a report by a human rights organization. Imagine substituting the word Blacks for Gypsies. Perhaps that will help illustrate the outrageousness of these statements.
Under the section on Government, the Report correctly states that many police departments do not keep tatistics on the racial origin of criminals (or victims for that matter). It then says that, the absence of such statistics exacerbates the tendency to exaggerate, meaning exaggeration on the part of Roma rights ctivists. It then says, even if crimes committed by the Gypsies had gone down (imagine that!) no one ould know. (emphasis in original) The Report fails to acknowledge another effect of the lack of racial tatistics on crime. It allows hate crimes against Roma to go undetected. Although I favor keeping track of racial statistics, to say that we must either scrap the ban on collecting ethnic data, or accept that llegations that many crimes are racially motivated, are purely hypothetical is offensive. While no official statistics on race are kept, I can assure you that based on the complaints I receive, racially otivated crimes are not hypothetical. I agree with the Report that, to label a whole nation like the zechs as vicious racists without proper evidence in unscientific and risks provoking a serious backlash. But ho has labeled the whole nation as vicious racists? Certainly not anyone to my knowledge. But to use his statement to imply that there are no racists in the Czech Republic is wrong. The Czech Republic would truly be unique in the world if this were the case.
The comparison of the Czech Republic with Slovakia serves little purpose. Yes, things are bad for the oma in Slovakia, as in many places in the world. However, this Report seems to imply that the Roma in the Czech Republic should be grateful that they are not being herded into ghettos like Lunik 9 in lovakia. Any amount of racism is intolerable. A comparison such as this adds nothing to the iscussion on Roma rights in the Czech Republic.
In conclusion, the Report seems to sympathize with ordinary Czechs (who) are now in danger of being eriously radicalized. The danger to the physical, social, and economic well being of the Roma opulation in the Czech Republic, far outweighs any danger to the ordinary Czech being labeled a racist. As far as I know, this Report is the only source to label them as such.) The Report further states that resident Havel's recent decline in popularity is due to his regular attacks on the Czech people as racists. n what does the Report base such a shocking allegation? And if that is the case, what does it say about the Czech Republic if the President has lost popularity for his support of basic human rights for a minority group in his country?
The Report quotes Marta Miklusakova, of the Czech human rights department, as advocating stronger aws forbidding racist language in public, a proposal starkly reminiscent of the Communist-era mindset, the Report calls it. No one is advocating a restriction on free speech. However, hate speech has been egulated in many democracies, including the United States. A U.S. Federal statute (42 U.S.C.A. §3631 ubchapter II Prevention of Intimidation) states: Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, by force or threat of force willfully injures, intimidates or interferes with, or attempts to injure, intimidate or interfere with
- any person because of his race, color, religion, sex, handicap
- shall be fined under Title 18 or imprisoned not more than one year, or both I am sure that the United tates would be interested to know that its statute against intimidating speech based on race or ethnicity s, reminiscent of the Communist-era mindset.
The Report lists its final conclusions as follows: It is untrue that the majority of Gypsy children are fraid to walk to school. It is untrue that Gypsies do not receive social security. It is untrue that every ight or scuffle that breaks out involving a Gypsy is a racist attack or the fault of the other party. It is untrue that Gypsies are thrown out of their flats if the rent isnt paid. These conclusions are absurd. First of all, who has made these claims in the first place? I assure you that I have never said that all fights nvolving a Rom are racially motivated. Secondly, the Report offers little or no proof to back up its onclusions. They seem to have visited two towns in the Czech Republic and based their conclusions on that limited research.
Finally, this statement: Compared with race relations in the USA, France or Britain, for instance, the zech Republic seems in many ways a model of inter-ethnic harmony (emphasis added). This statement would be enough to make me laugh out loud, if it were not so tragically sad that people throughout the ord will read this report and actually believe it.
Member of Czech Parliament Mgr. Monika Horakova