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Czech presidential candidate says multiculturalism "takes two"

Prague, 8.1.2013 17:31, (ROMEA)
Přemysl Sobotka
Přemysl Sobotka

News server Romea.cz has prepared a questionnaire for candidates running in what will be the first-ever direct election of the president of the Czech Republic. We asked all of the candidates, among other things, about their strategies for addressing the issue of social exclusion and their opinions on the integration of the Romani minority, particularly on how they intend to achieve improvements in that direction. We were also interested in their approach toward right-wing extremists, toward the issue of segregating pupils in primary schools, and toward the case of the pig farm located on the site of a WWII-era forced labor camp for Romani people.

We are publishing the responses in the order in which the candidates send them to us. Senator Přemysl Sobotka, vice-chair of the Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic, was the fifth candidate to respond.

Q: Do you take a "programmatic" or "systemic" approach to minorities in society, or do you understand the citizens of the country purely in individual terms?

A: I believe all people need to be approached as individuals. At the same time, however, I insist that a democratic (i.e., a non-extremist) majority must not back down under pressure from minorities.

Q: In your view, are the rights of the Romani minority in the Czech Republic sufficiently fulfilled?

A: Romani people have the same rights as all other citizens of the Czech Republic. Each person enjoys the rights and responsibilities guaranteed by the Czech legal order. Since we live under the rule of law, these rights are fulfilled or they can be enforced.

Q: Are politicians here responding adequately and sufficiently to racist or xenophobic events - for example, to the anti-Romani demonstrations being held by extremists? Are politicians here responding adequately and with sufficient speed to events that may not be extremist, but that are connected to protests against Romani people?

A: I reject extremism, just as I reject xenophobia. At the same time, however, I stress that multiculturalism takes two - the one who recognizes and offers it and the one who accepts and respects it.

Q: In your view, is it important to start addressing the social exclusion experienced by a rising number of citizens in the Czech Republic and the poverty related to it? What should the overall strategy for correcting social exclusion and all its related phenomena look like?

A: I must emphasize that the Czech Republic has the lowest percentage of citizens below the poverty line in the European Union. Inter-generational poverty can be addressed only through intensive pressure for better education and the higher motivation to seek employment that education entails, including, for example, training in work habits if a family lacks them.

Q: Despite various efforts, Romani children are still segregated educationally in the Czech schools, either because they are sent to the practical (special) primary schools or because they attend segregated classes in mainstream primary schools. Would you speak out against this phenomenon? What kinds of solutions for correcting it would you propose?

A: If we want to approach everyone individually, there is a need to create an education system that will adequately develop the skills of each person. Automatically sending children to various types of schools on the basis of ethnicity is just wrong. However, unifying everyone into one single type of education is also a mistake - at the other end of the education cycle, for example, we see today that we are clearly lacking professionals with secondary and higher educations in technology.

Q: Would you visit memorial sites linked to the genocide of the Romani people during WWII on their annual days of commemoration? (We have in mind here the former so-called "gypsy camps" at Lety by Písek and Hodonín by Kunštát, from which Czech Romani people were transported to Auschwitz.)

A: Yes. As chair and also as vice-chair of the Senate I have commemorated the Romani Holocaust and I have also given my auspices to several similar events.

Q: Would you call for the removal of the pig farm located on the territory of the former so-called "gypsy camp" at Lety by Písek?

A: Not during these times of economic crisis. Let's not give the extremists yet another excuse to vote against honoring innocent victims.

Q: You often speak in generalizations about Romani people - for example, on Czech Radio you said that Romani people are demanding that it be taken into consideration that they might never work at all. Does that sort of populist move, tarring everyone with the same brush, contribute to good coexistence? Shouldn't a presidential candidate rather be bringing people together and cultivating social cohesion?

A: I reject the characterization that I often generalize about Romani people. In the interview you mention, I was talking about the fact that I am against a democratic majority backing down under pressure from minorities, as well as about the fact that everyone in a democracy enjoys not only rights, but also responsibilities. If people cannot take care of themselves or their family - for example, for objective reasons such as a health condition - then the state should help them. However, if the only thing that prevents them from working is their unwillingness to get up every morning and go to a job, then that is that specific person's mistake, not one of the system.

František Kostlán, Zdeněk Ryšavý, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Děti, Evropa, Hodonín u Kunštátu, Holocaust, koncentrační tábor, Lety u Písku, Osobnosti, Prezidentské volby, Inkluzivní vzdělávání, Romové, romské oběti nacismu, Czech republic, Education, EU, genocide, History, Neo-Nazism, Prezidentská anketa, Roma



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