John condemns Czech Deputy PM’s anti-Roma ‘parasite’ comments

John Finnie with Gypsy Traveller activist Roseanna McPhee
John Finnie with Gypsy Traveller activist Kathy McGuigan

In two separate incidents over the last week, the Czech Republic’s Deputy Prime Minister, Andrej Babiš, has appeared to deny or even condone the imprisonment of Czech Roma people in a concentration camp by occupying Nazi forces, and – on a visit to the camp itself – described Romani people as “parasites”.

John Finnie has written to Mr Babiš, condemning his comments and demanding both an apology and policy changes to alleviate the severe discrimination suffered by Romani people in the Czech Republic.

There are at least 3,000 Gypsy/Travellers in Scotland. There is a distinctive Highland Traveller tradition, while Romani people have been part of the Scottish community, especially in the Lowlands, for more than 500 years. Gypsy/Travellers in Scotland are subject to far more prejudice than any other ethnic group – the 2010 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey found that a 37% of people would be upset if a close family member married a Gypsy/Traveller, and 46% said a Gypsy/Traveller is unsuitable for employment as a primary school teacher.

John told the Czech Minister that it was his duty, on behalf of Gypsy/Travellers in the Highlands and Islands, to challenge the racist propaganda – such as Mr Babiš’s comments – that generates these hateful attitudes.

You can read John’s letter to Andrej Babiš below – click to view as a PDF.

Dear Mr Babiš, Like very many people around the world, I was appalled by your recent comments regarding Roma people in the Czech Republic. Your claim that the camp at Lety was not a concentration camp but merely a “work camp” not only desecrates the memory of the 300 Roma who died there and the 500 who were transported from Lety to Auschwitz, but propagates the corrosive, racist slur that Romani people are lazy, unproductive or criminal and warrant fascistic treatment. By prefacing these comments with the words “there were times when all Roma worked,” you not only reinforce that slander, but suggest your approval of the atrocity committed against Romani people at Lety. At best, these comments deny of the extent of the Holocaust; many will wonder whether in fact they represent sympathy with the Holocaust. On your recent visit to Lety, ostensibly to apologise for the above comments, you described members of the Roma community as “parasites”. I am sure you are aware that the use of dehumanising language such as this, casting Romani people as vermin, is an indispensable component of the xenophobic propaganda that underpins both the Nazi Holocaust and the present-day persecution of Roma. The horrific prejudice and discrimination faced by Romani people, and the related ill-treatment of other Gypsy/Traveller people, causes great hardship, misery and injustice, not just in the Czech Republic but across Europe, including here in Scotland. Racist and degrading comments such as yours are the building blocks of this hatred. On behalf of my Gypsy/Traveller constituents, and in solidarity with that community across Europe and beyond, I request that you make a full and unqualified apology for your racist remarks, desist from making any such remarks in the future, and adopt policies that dismantle the structural discrimination suffered by Czech Romani people. Yours sincerely, John Finnie MSP