Government approves anti-discrimination bill

Victims of discrimination in the Czech Republic - be it in the form of race, gender, sexual orientation, or age - should have a better chance of defending their rights in the future. A new anti-discrimination bill has been approved by the government clearly outlining and broadening the definition of what is discrimination.

Proving any form of discrimination in the Czech Republic has never been easy. Imagine the following situation: you are a Romany and you walk into a pub where you see a prominently displayed baseball bat with the message: For Gypsies! You can either walk out and never go near the place again or you can take the matter to court. This is a true life story - the Romany in question took the case to court and lost, because the judge claimed that the insulting message was not directed against him in person. If the new anti-discrimination bill makes it through both houses of Parliament such a court case would, in future, have a very different ending.

If you were looking for a place to rent and were refused because you had children, or because you happened to be gay - you could fight back. And the premise that an insult against a minority to which you belong is not an insult against you yourself could never be used again, since the new bill defines the concept of direct and indirect discrimination. In a town where a third of the population is Roma - a supermarket could be sued for not having a single Romany employee.

Czechs, who have in the past had few instruments with which to battle discrimination - and who are only tentatively using the existing laws against discrimination at the work place and sexual harassment - may wonder at the scope of this new bill. Will we see the day when someone is taken to court for telling a joke about dumb blondes - the Czech daily Mlada fronta Dnes asks. Observers think not. The proposed bill should simply ensure that people who are seriously discriminated against have greater protection under Czech law. The bill includes provisions for exceptions, sets quotas and ceilings on damages that victims can demand. Of course, it may sustain some changes on its way through parliament. MPs may wish to add an article or two of their own. In recent years they have been the butt of a great many jokes, so perhaps they'll want to include themselves on the list of potential victims.