Commentary: Are Czech academics and politicians giving cover to neo-Nazis?
Prior to this past weekend’s neo-Nazi demonstration in Vítkov, sociologist Jan Keller participated in a press briefing convened by the Moravian-Silesian Regional Police on this issue. His controversial comments there have prompted a great deal of response (video of the briefing, in Czech only, is available at http://www.romea.cz/cz/zpravodajstvi/martin-fafejta-dava-jan-keller-kryti-ceskym-nackum-a-kryji-je-cesti-politici).
Keller’s fellow sociologist Fedor Gál has responded to Keller’s remarks as follows: „While watching the news on ČT24 I listened with astonishment to the sociologist and university educator Jan Keller. I quote what he said from memory: ‚Regional-level politicians are doing everything they can‘, ‚Those up top are causing this, they are resolving their own personal problems, not ours‘, ‚The government must increase the minimum wage‘, ‚The government must support the regions, if we could only access European money, we would be a tiger‘, etc. The Nazis were being given ideological and political cover by him on live television.“
Many who participated in the subsequent online discussion on Romea’s Facebook page stood up for Jan Keller, but I am of the opinion that he is mistaken in many respects. I won’t go so far as to claim that the Nazis have been given cover by him, as Gál said, but regional-level politicians definitely received cover from him. From time to time those politicians have indeed done, to use Keller’s words, „everything they can“ – that is, everything they can to further ghettoize Romani people for the purposes of amassing even more political capital. Examples of this are not only people such as [former Regional Development Minister] Čunek, but also some of the politicians in the Šluknov foothills, who did not distance themselves early enough from the people convening anti-Romani marches in their towns. Keller’s hypothesis that top politicians are robbing the European funds, but not the regional ones, is also tragically mistaken.
Part of Keller’s proposed solution is also rather naive: Increasing the minimum wage would not increase the standard of living of the „working poor“, unless it were to be increased to CZK 15 000 monthly (according to Keller’s thesis that whoever works for CZK 14 500 monthly is a member of the working poor). CZK 15 000 is an unrealistic amount for a minimum wage and would pose a disproportionate burden not only to some employers, but also to those whose health insurance premiums are based on the minimum wage and who would have to pay much more for health insurance as a result. A few people might be aided by such an increase, but many others would actually end up worse off, not only those whose health insurance costs would rise, but also those who would be let go by their employers because they could no longer afford them. A sharp increase in the minimum wage, therefore, would worsen the social situation. If we are to accept Keller’s hypothesis that racism in Czech society is economically conditioned, then that would just further increase racism in Czech society.
Where I do agree with Keller is with his claim that social policy must target not only Romani people, but also those who are on the rampage against them – but what Keller is proposing will not get us there. I also agree with him that the government is not doing enough to prevent these anti-Romani protests, that politicians are only out for themselves, and that their personal attacks on the police are undermining the prestige of that institution, which is already quite endangered.
My criticism of Czech politicians is that they are cowards. None of them is capable of unequivocally standing up for Romani people directly on the spot, for the people who have not violated any laws and who, on the contrary, are doing their best, with all of their strength, to participate in this society – unlike the Nazi demonstrators, who attack all Romani people indiscriminately. For example, just look at the hysteria around the recent birth of quintuplets to a Romani family, a family where the father has a job and said he was going to have to find extra work now that the children have been born. How much more praiseworthy of a position could one expect him to take? Instead of praise, however, that family has encountered a wave of completely disgusting racial hatred, and the result is they are now living under police protection. Where are the politicians with their words of condemnation about that? Mr President, Mr Rusnok, Ms Němcová, Mr Štěch, isn’t it time to finally speak up?