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PROCEEDINGS AND DEBATES OF THE 110th CONGRESS, 2nd SESSION

Vol. 153 Washington, Tuesday, April 29, 2008 No. 61

House of Representatives


TEACH ABOUT THE GENOCIDE OF ROMA



HON. ALCEE L. HASTINGS

OF FLORIDA

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Mr. HASTINGS of Florida. Madam Speaker, as Chairman of the Commission
on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I closely monitor incidents of
racism and intolerance in the OSCE region. Today, I rise to address the
need to foster greater knowledge of the genocide of Roma. I am moved to
do so by some recent developments in the Czech Republic.

Too little is known, and too little is understood, about the genocide
of Roma during World War II--and that ignorance manifests itself in
many ways.

Last year, a tape recording emerged of a local housing committee
meeting in the town of Ostrava in the eastern part of the Czech
Republic, On this tape recording was the voice of Senator Liana
Janackova. who was serving as a local mayor at the time the recording
was made. And on this tape recording, Senator Janackova is heard to
say: ``Unfortunately, I am a racist. I disagree with the integration of
Gypsies so that they would live across the area. Unfortunately, we have
chosen the Bedriska (colony) and so they will stay there, with a high
fence and with electricity.'' She was also heard to say that she had no
place to move the Roma and would therefore like to dynamite them away.

News reports say that the Senator has since apologized and called her
remarks ``silly'' and explained that they were not directed against all
Roma, just some Roma.

Last week, this case was back in the news because the Czech Senate
declined to lift Senator Janackova's immunity, a necessary step for
prosecutors to charge her under the Czech Republic's laws that make
defamation of a nation, ethnic group, race or faith a crime.
There has already been considerable criticism of the Czech Senate's
54 to 13 vote. According to news reports, those who voted against
lifting Senator Janackova's immunity argued that she didn't make those
remarks with a racist intent. Senator Janackova declared herself to be
a racist and talked about dynamiting members of the Czech Republic's
most persecuted minority, but they didn't think she had a racist
intent. Frankly, I'm having a little trouble following that logic.

The fact is, this case illustrates one of the many ways in which hate
speech laws stray from their original purpose and, often, don't work
the way they were intended.

Now, I am not an advocate of hate speech laws as a means to address
racism and intolerance. It is perhaps worth recalling that just a few
years ago in the Czech Republic, a Romani woman cursed the wall that
had been built in Usti nad Labem to separate Roma from non-Roma. In an
extraordinary miscarriage of justice, she was convicted of hate speech
for doing so. If not pardoned by Vaclav Havel, she would've gone to
prison. And Romani activist Ondrej Gina was threatened with hate speech
charges for saying his town was racist.

From where I stand, there are just too many cases where people are
charged under hate speech laws not because they have fomented racial
hatred, but because they have offended the national or local
government's political sensitivities.

So I am not here to make the case for prosecuting people for the
content of their speech, or to argue that Senator Janackova should go
to jail for what she said. Instead, I rise today to recommend that
Senator Janackova visit the Romani camp at Auschwitz.

During World War II, Roma were targeted for death by the Nazis based
on their ethnicity. At least 23,000 Roma were brought to Auschwitz--
including many from the concentrations camps at Lety and Hodonin.
Almost all of them perished in the gas chambers or from starvation.
exhaustion, or disease. Some Ronia also died at the hands of sadistic
SS doctors, like Joseph Mengele. In fact, a young Czech woman, Dina
Babbitt-Gottlieb, also interned at Auschwitz, was forced to paint
portraits of Roma for Mengele, who particularly liked to conduct
gruesome medical experiments on Roma.

On the night of August 2nd and 3rd, 1944, the order was given to
liquidate the Romani camp at Auschwitz. In a single evening, 2,897
Romani men, women and children were killed in gas chambers. In the end,
almost the entire Romani population of the Czech lands was exterminated
during the Nazi occupation.

I don't know Senator Janackova. But I'd bet she has not been to the
Romani camp at Auschwitz. Maybe she has not even been to the Museum of
Roma Culture in Brno. Maybe she could view the collection of
photographs of Czech Romani Holocaust victims that have been displayed
in Prague. Maybe she could even help secure the resources to remove the
pig farm from the site of the Lety concentration camp, as called for by
many Romani activists and some government officials.

So I'm not calling for Senator Janackova go to jail. But I would like
it if she could visit the Romani camp at Auschwitz. I think she would
learn a lot there--she might even learn that words can have real
consequences.





Countries

Czech Republic

Issues

National Minorities
Racism/Anti-Semitism
Roma


   
 

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From left, Rep. Smith, Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner, Chairman Cardin, and Ranking Member Hastings hear testimony on threats to media freedom at a hearing June 9, 2010