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July 1, 2022



Commentary: Mayors and racism in the Czech Republic

Prague, 9.10.2014 0:28, (ROMEA)
Martin Šimáček being interviewed by Daniela Drtinová for the online television channel DVTV run by news server Aktuálně.cz.
Martin Šimáček being interviewed by Daniela Drtinová for the online television channel DVTV run by news server Aktuálně.cz.

The "inadaptables" are once again scoring points in the runup to the local elections. Just as they did four and also eight years ago, many local politicians are competing to see who can promise a more aggressive intervention against the "inadaptables", subliminally understood to mean homeless people, migrants, Romani people and anyone else not favored by society (for various, often irrational reasons).    

The pseudo-politically correct term of "inadaptables" is even worse than if a politican were to directly campaign against Romani people or other groups that have long experienced a bad position in society. It includes a definitive condemnation:  These are the people who WILL NEVER ADAPT!  

By using this term, politicians are basically saying that the only thing to be done with people who have been pushed to the outskirts of society is to keep expelling them into isolation. Moreover, it is a term that is all-embracing - anyone can be considered "inadaptable", there is no need to make a complex list of "all those different groups", to say nothing of judging people individually on a person by person basis, without needing to attribute some group identity to that individual (and one that is artificially constructed at that).    

This pseudo-term and its condemnation is also being used by many mainstream, serious politicians from the big parties, which could influence the public to adopt this condemnation of an enormous, completely artificially created group of people. There is no doubt that this results in undermining social cohesion, increasing hatred among people and increasing their fear of the poverty that could cause them to "lose face".

Mayors throughout the Ústí Region, moroever, have gone even further - in their most recent statements have declared that "inadaptable residents do not respect longstanding rules of decent behavior, which logically sparks displays of extremism and racial intolerance." In other words, they are saying that the "inadaptables" are of another race (probably mainly Roma) and that racism in such a case is appropriate.    

These political leaders are legitimizing racism. Here I must ask why they are doing this, since most of them in their local practices are either actively assisting (or at least not preventing) constructive solutions to social exclusion.

It is not appropriate for local politicians to "invite" right-wing extremists to their towns and become racists. What is appropriate is to address situations constructively, not in a populist way.

Even though this year, for example, we have seen posters around the Ostrava area announcing a "Final Solution", and even though in many other places candidates for local councils are rattling their sabers against the "inadaptables", something essential is changing here. The number of politicians talking about social exclusion as a problem has RISEN, and they are discussing it as a problem that is unpleasant for the public, but that is, at the same time, SOLVABLE.  

They are also discussing solving this problem to benefit everyone, i.e., both those who are impoverished or who have found themselves in a bad social situation, and those who live near the poor and don't want to grapple with the consequences of the UNRESOLVED (not unresolvable) problems related to social exclusion. In recent years the number of mayors who have undertaken the demanding work of beginning to organize a functioning social policy at local level has also significantly increased.  

These politicians support employment and social services and address issues of education and safety. They are getting concrete results in the area of civil coexistence in their towns.  

People don't have to be afraid when they are out in public, they don't need to fight anyone or anything. The Nazis from the DSSS and other groups are no longer traveling to their towns to organize hateful assemblies, because they would not succeed if they did.

On the contrary, people are gaining the assurance that if they themselves were to ever have problems, there are social services available in their community, or anti-debt counseling centers. There is even social housing available, if only for a few months until they can get themselves back on their feet and resolve their life crisis.

This could be seen, for example, in the public discussion between the candidates running for mayor of Ostrava that was broadcast recently by Czech Television. I had the opportunity to participate on that program and to hear that three out of the four politicians there expressed their views on the topics of residential hotels, safety and unemployment by discussing very specific solutions, and they felt no need to pander to the voters in a populist way.

This gives Ostrava the chance that the problem of poverty - which affects more than just an ostracized group of people there - will be addressed by local politicians in future. Understandably, many are also referring to the existing national legislation and saying it is not conducive to social integration.  

They are not mistaken - at least, when what they are critiquing is the collapse of previously functioning public services, insufficient state regulation of debt (which facilitates trafficking in debt and debtors), dysfunctional housing benefits (particularly in relation to residential hotels) and many other issues. This is good, as long as local politicians themselves are consistent and come back to the central government should it not respond to problems in the field.  

At the same time, however, it is good to realize that the elections that are around the corner are local ones in which the politicians are supposed to present the solutions they have the competency for, i.e., local ones. Such solutions do exist and are available even under the current legislation.  

In the discussion of local solutions, we cannot help but notice what a big piece of work on social inclusion, which benefits all residents, has been done during just one term (or even just part of one) in the towns of Kadaň (Prunéřov), Krásná Lípa, Krnov, Obrnice, Rumburk, Žlutic, and many other places. I would like to thank those mayors for addressing these problems - if I were a resident in your town, I'd vote for you. 

Martin Šimáček, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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