Senator in hot water after secret recording captures racist remarks

Liana Janackova

A popular senator and local mayor from the north Moravian city of Ostrava is fighting accusations of racism, following the release on Tuesday of a recording of a local housing committee meeting. Senator Liana Janackova is apparently heard making derogatory and threatening remarks about Romanies in her ward, remarks which she says have been taken out of context.

Liana Janackova is no stranger to controversy. In 1997, as hundreds of Ostrava Romanies began emigrating to Canada, she offered to pay for their plane tickets on condition they gave up their right to council housing. Now she's back in the news, thanks to a secret recording of a meeting with local residents about a controversial Romany settlement called Bedriska.

"I'll tell you this - I don't agree with any kind of integration. Unfortunately, I'm a racist. I don't believe in integrating gypsies so that they'd be living throughout the district. Unfortunately we chose Bedriska, so that's where they'll be, surrounded by a high fence, an electric fence if you like, and I'll happily shout that out to the whole world."

At first Senator Janackova, who is not a member of any political party, denied outright making the remarks. She later admitted at least some of the words on the 42-minute recording could have been hers, but explained to Czech Television that she was posing rhetorical questions during what was a heated debate.

"I never said seriously that I'm a racist. And if I did use such words, well it was more like - so what am I supposed to do with them? Round them up and stick them behind a high fence?"

The recording also contains what sounds like Mrs Janackova saying one alternative to the housing problem would be to blow up the Romanies with dynamite. A man identified as the deputy mayor is then heard asking whether someone would give him permission to shoot them.

Kumar Vishwanathan
The recording is almost a year old, and only came to the attention of the media thanks to Radomir Michniak, Mrs Janackova's predecessor as mayor of Ostrava's Marianske Hory and Hulvaky district. She says her rival has deliberately released the material in a bid to discredit her. But for Ostrava community worker Kumar Vishwanathan, local political feuds are irrelevant.

"We are still just one generation away from the horrors of the 30s and the 40s. So we're living in the shadow of a very dangerous historical experience. And if a responsible, respected senator and a mayor of a town says these things, even if it was a joke, I think the person should bear responsibility for these words. It just strengthens a climate and a feeling of just what is still possible in this part of the world."

Mrs Janackova is a member of the Senate's human rights committee. On Tuesday Mr Vishwanathan submitted the recording to the chairman of the committee, demanding an explanation. According to the latest Czech media reports, the committee has voted not to investigate the affair.