Senate Human Rights Committee investigates Roma evictions in Vsetin

Jiri Cunek and the members of the Senate's Human Rights Committee visiting the new accommodation for the Roma rent-defaulters

When the mayor of Vsetin Jiri Cunek evicted several hundred Romany rent-defaulters from their homes and moved them to a complex of portacabins on the outskirts of town several weeks ago he set off a storm of controversy. Some called him a racist, others applauded his courage in addressing a long-standing problem. On Thursday the Senate's Human Rights Commission set out to investigate the matter - and concluded that the mayor had made the right decision.

Jiri Cunek and the members of the Senate's Human Rights Committee visiting the new accommodation for the Roma rent-defaulters, photo: CTK
Before the "big eviction" in mid October Jiri Cunek was little known at the national level. His decision to get tough with Roma rent defaulters catapulted him to fame and high politics overnight. He is now a senator for the Christian Democratic Party - and is seen as a hot candidate for the post of party chairman - yet he remains a highly controversial figure.

Is the man who wants to lead the Christian Democrats a racist who abused his power and violated human rights? That is a question that many people want answered ahead of the party's national conference this weekend.

Jiri Cunek, Milan Bures and Zdenek Janalik visiting the new accommodation for the Roma rent-defaulters, photo: CTK
Members of the Senate's Human Rights Committee who visited Vsetin on Thursday claim that Mr. Cunek did not violate the law in any way. Josef Pavlata from the Civic Democratic Party said he was pleasantly surprised by the new accommodation for the Roma rent-defaulters and noted that the town hall had gone way beyond its duty by investing in a children's playground and improving the surroundings. "In terms of quality their current accommodation is beyond comparison with the previous" the senator said. Independent Senator Liana Janackova said she believed that the solution offered was "basically positive" and Milan Bures of the Civic Democrats went so far as to suggest that this practice could be used for rent-defaulters in other towns as well.

Overall, a very positive outcome for Jiri Cunek, and one which is likely to boost his candidacy ahead of the weekend party conference. But there is no doubt that many people will remain skeptical. Some of the evicted Romanies are pressing charges of racism against the mayor and evil tongues say that the Christian Democratic Party has convinced three other members to run for chairman in the hope that Jiri Cunek will not get elected.