Roma evictions back in the spotlight

Jiri Cunek (left) in Vsetin, photo: CTK

When the then mayor of Vsetin Jiri Cunek evicted several hundred Romany rent defaulters from their homes and re-housed them in hastily erected portacabins and vacant houses last October he must have realized that such a move would make him or break him. But the risk paid off - strong public support for the decision catapulted him into high politics overnight. He won a seat in the Senate, was elected leader of the Christian Democrats and is now Minister for Regional Development. But now, months later, the controversial decision which made him a household name appears to have come back to haunt him.

Dzamila Stehlikova,  photo: CTK
The man who rose to fame overnight is now in big trouble. He stands accused of corruption and many of his ministerial colleagues are turning away from him. The minister in charge of human rights and minorities issues Dzamila Stehlikova has just dealt him a resounding blow, comparing his eviction of Romanies to the post-war expulsion of Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia.

"The act of evicting Romany families in the middle of the night - when they have no idea where they are being taken and what is in store for them makes one wonder whether we are really living in the 21st century."

Minister Stehlikova argued that some of the homes into which the Roma families had been moved presented a health hazard and said the government needed to find one and a half million crowns in emergency funds for repairs.

Jiri Cunek  (left) in Vsetin,  photo: CTK
"The money would go to the respective villages or to NGOs so that they can make these homes habitable - fix the electricity, install tap water and a functioning sewage system. It is not compensation money for the Roma families. It is intended to help the villages who are now faced with this problem and have no vacant quarters in which they can house the Roma families."

Minister Stehlikova originally asked to get the money from Jiri Cunek's own ministerial budget for regional development but when it became clear that this would not be possible since the houses were not in council ownership she said she would establish a public donation fund. The fact that Finance Minister Jiri Kalousek - a party colleague of Jiri Cunek - immediately volunteered to contribute ten thousand crowns did not pass unnoticed. Minister Stehlikova also promised ten thousand and while the media are watching the situation with amusement, Jiri Cunek remains tight-lipped.