Vsetin mayor in race storm after evicting Romanies from town centre
The town of Vsetin in eastern Moravia is at the centre of what is becoming a nationwide debate over housing, local politics and race relations. Mayor Jiri Cunek's decision to move several hundred Romany rent-defaulters out of a dilapidated block of flats in the town centre and relocate them, often up to 70 km away, helped him win him a seat in the Senate, but is also causing uproar.
Mr Cunek, a member of the Christian Democrats, evicted the Romanies, re-housing them in a complex of portacabins on the outskirts of Vsetin and also in neighbouring villages, some up to 70 km away. The crumbling tower block is now being demolished.
Local residents, who had long complained about noise and vandalism coming from the estate, have lionised him. But his decision is now causing uproar, largely due to comments he made in a report this week by TV Nova.
"I see a process, which is extremely worrying. I see this not as an isolated event. I think it's wrong. The Czech Republic and the people in this country often think of themselves as a very civilised people, who are not racist, who have a better self-image. Mr Cunek is now trying to push at the very boundaries of what is acceptable in this society. And that's very disturbing, because it seems to me that what he's trying to do, along with others, is to try to shift what is acceptable. That sounds like we are going back to the 30s. That sounds very, very, very dangerous I think."
"I don't know what for. And if I don't know what for, then I'm not going to apologise to anyone."
Some in the media had speculated that Jiri Cunek might be a candidate to take over the leadership of the Christian Democrats when the party holds its annual conference in December. Even though Mr Cunek still has the support of both the town council and the people of Vsetin, that now seems unlikely.