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Wednesday, 12 April, 2000, 20:26 GMT 21:26 UK
Czech court backs anti-Gypsy wall
gypsy wall
The wall sparked international outrage
By Central Europe analyst Jan Repa

The Constitutional Court of the Czech Republic has ruled that MPs exceeded their legal powers last October by ordering the demolition of a wall, built by a local council, to separate local Gypsies from adjacent private houses.

The wall, in the town of Usti nad Labem in Northern Bohemia, brought strong international condemnation and has already been demolished.

The wall brought unwelcome publicity to a government keen to portray the Czech Republic as a liberal, tolerant democracy well on its way to joining the European Union.

Local residents complained about what they said was the noise and rubbish emanating from a nearby apartment block housing Gypsy families.

The local council responded by building a wall in front of the block.

Demolition

Last October, the Czech parliament ordered the wall to be taken down - and the council complied.

Some non-Gypsy residents are reported to have been offered alternative properties.

In its ruling, the court upheld parliament's right to issue a moral condemnation.

But it said MPs had exceeded their constitutional powers by over-riding a decision by a local self-governing administration.

Although the wall has gone, the ruling could inhibit the central authorities in Prague from intervening in controversial local government decisions in future.

Czech opinion polls consistently suggest a large degree of popular hostility towards Gypsies.

Some local authorities have even tried restricting their movements, only to be overruled by the central government.

But after decades of centralised Communist dictatorship, the courts appear keen to enforce the principle of limited government and a system of constitutional checks and balances.

It is not an easy dilemma to resolve.

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See also:

18 Oct 99 | Europe
Czech pledge to tear down wall
26 Feb 99 | Europe
Hiding gypsies behind a wall
09 Jun 99 | Europe
Czech gypsies in school row
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