WASHINGTON – Meeting with Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Palous in the U.S. Capitol last night, Commissioners Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Ranking Minority Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) complemented the Government of the Czech Republic for allowing the Radio Farsi/Radio Free Iraq station to be placed in its country, for standing firm against municipal plans to wall off Roma and President Havel’s new “Holocaust Phenomenon” initiative.
At the same time, they urged the Czech leader to condemn the wave of anti-Roma, anti-Semitic and anti-foreign violence that plagues the Czech Republic.
“We welcome this opportunity to discuss with Mr. Palous several matters of mutual concern and to express our appreciation for the support his government recently provided Radio Free Europe in agreeing to host the Radio Farsi/Radio Free Iraq station. I believe that the experience of Radio Free Europe demonstrates the value of such a medium and am gratified that the Czech Republic shares that perception,” said Smith.
Smith also commented that he was “…gratified to learn that your government announced on January 11 that it would block the construction of a wall in the village of Usti that, if built, would effectively create a Roam ghetto. Such walls have no place in modern Europe. In fact, Mr. Minister, it is regrettable that it took as long as it did for your government to reach this conclusion—or at least to publicly announce its decision.”
Mr. Hoyer pointed out that he was, “deeply concerned by the general failure of high-level Czech officials to condemn anti-Roma, anti-Semitic and anti-foreigner acts. Xenophobia is out of place in contemporary Europe, and must not be tolerated nor ignored. President Havel has made such statements, but he stands virtually alone. There does not appear to be a serious willingness to ensure that such acts are vigorously prosecuted. We are not asking more of you than of any other countries, nor than what Americans ask from us when our own country experiences acts of intolerance.” The Commissioners and Mr. Palous discussed the case of Bob Joyce, the American teacher beaten in November for defending a Rom against skinhead harassment.
(Note: At last July’s Commission hearing on Romani human rights the Czech Republic was cited as one of the worst countries on this issue.) In a similar vein, they discussed the ongoing problems with the citizenship law of the Czech Republic, specifically those provisions which deny citizenship to thousands of Czech Roma who previously had Czechoslovak citizenship.
“I hope that a new law will be adopted quickly,” said Smith. “In particular I hope that the new law will provide citizenship ex lege; if Roma and others are required to go through a cumbersome application process, that will inevitably be subject to abuse at the local level and financially burdensome to implement.”
The Commissioners expressed encouragement over President Havel’s new initiative, called the “Holocaust Phenomenon,” which is designed to provide greater insight into what happened to Jews and Roma during the war. They expressed hope that a full and complete copy of the archives from the Lety camp—the only archives from a Roma concentration camp known to exist—would be given to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) fulfilling a four-year-old pledge. In addition, they urged the USHMM be given rapid access to Czech-held Waffen-SS and related archives.
Mr. Palous was urged to have the Czech Republic repeal its criminal defamation law, which violates international norms protecting free speech and a free press. “Although President Havel has pardoned everyone who has been convicted under this law, what will happen when someone else becomes President?” asked Smith. “This is an unnecessary legacy of the communist past.” The Czech Republic was urged to follow Hungary’s example, which repealed its criminal defamation law in 1994.