August 2001  

August 25, 2001
Your papers, please. Travelers to Britain will once again have to answer a lot of questions at Ruzyne Airport in Prague before being allowed to board their flight. The airport checks were originally begun in response to the number of Czech Roma asking for asylum in the U.K. London insisted it wasn't trying to intentionally bar Gypsies from entering its country, although most evidence at the airport suggested otherwise. The intervention of human rights groups got the checks lifted, but the U.K. will reinstate them now that applications for asylum are again on the rise. The Czech government has gone along with the checks because it insists that the only alternative would be visas for all Czech citizens. The more likely reason is that this government, like every government before it, willingly toes the line of the stronger power. All it might take from this government to stem the departures is the creation of new jobs and education programs for the Roma - in other words, show a little leadership - but it has chosen to stand by and pretend that only England can do something about the problem. Given the stature of President Havel within most of the human rights community, a ringing denouncement of the checks by him could have gone a long way towards ending them permanently. But that would have interrupted his holiday abroad. (A personal note: I was in the company of a Czech girl during my only visit to Britain several years ago. The man at the passport control waved the girl through, but once I showed him my American passport, he started asking me one question after another. The questions were basic - Where are you going? Do you like tea and Churchill? - but the man kept looking at me the whole time as if I were a pimp.)