An indifferent Víťazoslav Moric was stripped of his parliamentary immunity from prosecution for statements he made in August concerning Gypsies.
A member of the far-right opposition Slovak National Party (SNS), Moric may be charged for statements he made concerning the country's minority Roma population at a party press conference in August when he shocked journalists by calling Roma "idiots" and "mental retards" and recommending some of them be put on reservations.
In the parliamentary vote, 65 MPs were in favour of stripping his immunity, and 27 voted against. The chamber holds 150 seats.
Moric, who said before the vote that he would voluntarily give up his immunity, said afterwards he was unimpressed by the decision.
"Whether you take my immunity or not matters to me no more than whether tram number 3 goes from the station or to the station," he said.
Despite Moric's sang froid, however, the country's Roma and police said the decision was significant. The Attorney General's office announced that an investigation into the allegations of inciting racial hatred had been launched, while Slovak Roma representatives said they hoped people like Moric would finally lose their social influence.
"Roma are used to these kinds of comments from people like Moric and his party colleagues," said Daniela Šilanová, a Roma activist and editor-in-chief of the Prešov-based Romano Lio Nevo (Roma News Letter) newspaper. "The problem is that when the Roma see a member of parliament say such things publicly, it makes us believe that all Slovaks think the same way."
At the August 4 SNS press conference, Moric called for the Roma to be placed on American-style reservations, saying that "if we don't do it now, they'll do it to us in some 20 years." Then, claiming that statistics showed "a far greater percentage of mentally retarded children are born in the Roma community," he asked: "What is humanitarian about letting idiots impregnate idiots?"
Moric denied that his statements had been racist, and said that he had only hoped to spark dialogues on the 'gypsy problem'. "I had to use such words to make the people responsible [for dealing with the Roma problem] hear the drum," he told The Slovak Spectator on September 27, adding that he too wanted to participate in solving the issue.
But judging by the subsequent social outroar and the vote in parliament, few citizens appear to buy his claim to a 'personal concern' with the issue. "It's unacceptable that a public official is allowed to spread public intolerance like Moric has done many times already," said Ľudovít Tóth, head of the Civil-Democratic Youth (ODM) NGO which laid charges against Moric on August 4. The Slovak Roma Initiative (RIS) filed suit four days later.
Moric and his party colleagues insist that his quotes have been intentionally misinterpreted and that the media has used them out of context. Moric made some valid points, they insist, points which should be considered instead of ridiculed.
Opposition party Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) MP Michal Drobný, for example, said that "Moric only opened the door on a stinking room [the Roma problem] that needs to be aired out."
The former leader of Moric's SNS party, Ján Slota, added that Slovaks were "stupid" if they failed to see that Moric had made some valid points about the Roma problem. "This is how we Slovaks are. We are so simple that we are stupid."
In his own defence, Moric said that far from the racist he is accused of being, he is actually more enlightened than his government counterparts. "I have many friends among them [Roma] and none of you educated people have ever shared one spoon at supper with them like I have," Moric told parliament before the vote. He then ridiculed the efforts of people like Deputy Prime Minister for Minorities Pál Csáky, who "talks in an educated way, but says nothing."
Meanwhile, MPs who supported the initiative to strip Moric of his immunity said that such opinions must not be tolerated.
Csáky told The Slovak Spectator on September 26 that he was pleased by the vote in parliament and that he hoped police, investigators and the courts would judge Moric strictly and in accordance with existing laws. "It's absolutely unacceptable that a state representative can say such things," he said.
Csáky's ruling coalition colleague, Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) MP Peter Tatár, agreed. "We can't tolerate racist violence, and Moric verbally committed racist violence," Tatár said. "Politicians who act like this set the worst possible example for all society."
Independent lawyer Ján Hrubala said that as a public figure, Moric should be punished more severely than a normal citizen. "The criminal code states that the penalty for abusing a race or provoking racial hatred is a minimum of 2 years in prison. But since Moric is in the position to influence public opinion, he should be treated far more severely."