The Museum of Roma culture is demanding that Tomio Okamura, the chair of the SPD party publically apologize for his statement about the concentration camp for Roma in Lety u Písku. In a conversation for DVTV on Saturday, citing a book, he said that the camp wasn’t fenced in and that the people there were free to come and go. According to experts from the Museum of Roma Culture this is an untrue claim which exacerbates anti-Roma attitudes in society and tramples the memory of victims of the persecution and genocide against the Roma during the Second World War. It was not possible to get a statement from Okamura. According to the spokesman of the SPD, he was ill.
No. Don’t ask for an apology.
Don’t demand an apology.
Don’t talk about an apology.
Some context, for those three out of the four of you reading this who have no particular reason to follow Czech politics.
“SPD” stands for “Freedom and Direct Democracy”. The second part of the party name represents their support for governing by referendum, and the “freedom” part is, I guess, freedom from the evil diktat of Brussels.
Tomio Okamura, the head of the party, is the son of a Czech mother and a Japanese father (hence the name). He spent some of his youth in each of his two ancestral countries, but since the fall of communism in 1989 he has essentially lived here in Prague. He made bank as a travel agent, using his natural advantage to cater to the market in Japanese tourism to the Czech Republic.
He seems to be a political opportunist with few beliefs but no qualms about jumping on any cause that he thinks will get him votes. As I wrote about him here, he jumped on board the “Dawn” party in 2013. The original purpose of the party was to rework the Czech constitution in the interests of making a more effective democracy.
Okamura figured out how effective it was to slam the local Roma population for being slovenly, and instead of reworking the Czech constitution, he rebuilt the party platform on the basis of ethno-nationalist hatred of Roma.
Then he siphoned into his own pockets the money the party had received from the state for funding its operations.
His new vehicle, SPD, moved on from targeting Roma. The main slogan on their billboards was, “No to immigrants! No to Islam in the Czech Republic!”
And they did better this past October than Okamura’s earlier venture with “Dawn,” coming in fourth with 10.6% of the vote.
It’s not clear that the biggest party, ANO, wants to work with Okamura in forming a coalition, because SPD’s bigotry is a little too open for the more polite populists in ANO.
On the other hand, ANO’s leader, Andrej Babiš, doesn’t have great options, because he and his right-hand man have been indicted for subsidy fraud, and most other parties have said they won’t enter a governing coalition with ANO as long as Babiš insists on being prime minister.
Okamura’s hand is further strengthened by his closeness with newly reelected president Miloš Zeman, a man who shares his willingness to demonize Muslims and the European Union, and throws in an unreconstructed male-chauvinist vibe for good measure.
So Okamura is a significant force in current Czech politics, and while he has expanded his earlier repertoire to include Muslims and immigrants, you can see from the excerpt at the top of this post that he’s still got room in his heart for anti-Roma bigotry.
The article quoted there goes on to say that there is photographic and written evidence of a wooden fence topped with barbed wire and watched by guards, and that the book Okamura referred to doesn’t exist.
So that’s Okamura and the history behind his attempt to portray a concentration camp as something like a voluntary resettlement area.
I agree with the Museum of Roma Culture that Okamura’s remarks were out of line (to put it mildly), but I’m tired of calls for apologies in situations like this.
Okamura is not sorry.
Okamura meant what he said.
The weekly Respekt now flat out calls Okamura a fascist. I’m not sure they’re right about that, simply because I don’t think he has an ideology as organized as fascism. But he is certainly a nasty piece of work, willing to use bigotry to further his own political and economic interests.
If he were to apologize, would you believe him? He was sued in 2014 for similar remarks, but the charge was suspended. What makes you think he’d be sorry this time?
When he refuses to apologize (which is the more likely outcome), his supporters will admire him all the more for standing up to “political correctness,” for not being afraid to “tell it like it is.”
I don’t know what the right response is to situations like this statement of Okamura’s, but surely there must be something more effective than calling for an insincere apology.
He’s shown repeatedly who he is.
Deal with it.
Post script: Apparently, the SPD’s post-election balance of 7 million Czech crowns has somewhat mysteriously dropped to zero. That’s another set of spots this leopard won’t change.