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Commentary by Karel Holomek: Czech Government social strategy unmasked

Brno, 8.2.2011 1:04, (http://blog.aktualne.centrum.cz)
Karel Holomek, chair of the Society of Roma in Moravia

The "Strategy for the Fight against Social Inclusion" is a document which was meant to be submitted to the government for approval in the middle of last year. It wasn't. The material was developed by the analyst Ivan Gabal together with the head of the (now-defunct) Socioklub association, Petr Víšek.

I don't know if I should be hanged or praised for having been among those who laid the adoption of this Strategy to rest, which I did together with a certain PhD of Roma ethnicity. The Strategy targeted the socially deprived in general, some of whom are Roma and excluded by Czech society as a whole, and it stated rather bluntly what must be done to bring this disastrous state of affairs to an end as soon as possible. The document indicated dozens of areas in which the Roma have been left behind and what should be done so they can raise themselves up a bit.

Among the other recommendations of the report, it stated, without any self-consciousness, that all of the Roma are themselves responsible for this state of affairs. The main problem was said to be their traditional culture, which prevents them from raising themselves up and is basically the main cause of the failure of the program for their integration. The broader Roma community did not like it when the two gentlemen I have named called this the problem of the Strategy, without mentioning at all what should be cultivated in society as a whole, because the relationship between the two groups - i.e., society and the Roma - is not a one-sided matter. Society owes the Roma something and it is necessary to at least name what that is. At the time, then-Human Rights Commissioner Michael Kocáb recognized that there was rather a lot of truth to the claim of a bipolar relationship. He put the adoption of the Strategy on ice, saying it had to be worked on further.

The Agency for Social Inclusion has been given that task. There is already a general awareness of this agency, so I won't go into details about it here. This is a brief history of the development of the "Strategy for the Fight against the Social Exclusion of Roma".

What does the Strategy look like today? Through some sort of oversight, I was appointed to the Inter-ministerial Coordination Group for the Strategy. As its title says, this is a group of representatives of various government ministries, and I definitely do not belong there, because I am not a ministerial bureaucrat - thank God. Let me explain.

My understanding was that it was the wish of the previous Human Rights Commissioner to participate in coordinating the work on the Strategy, and since he is no longer in office, my nomination was the last indication of a certain effort by the Human Rights Section to at least preserve the appearance of public participation in the discussion of these materials. Whatever the reason, I have the opportunity to follow the discussion of the Strategy and to express myself plainly on its outputs as reflected in the activities of the representatives of the various ministries.

I have learned several interesting things. The original reason the adoption and submission of the Strategy was delayed has fallen by the wayside and no one intends to concern themselves with it. The various ministerial measures are being subjected to careful review with regard to the amount of financing they will require, and if determined to exceed a tolerable level are rejected. There are also matters which are recommended to be set aside because perhaps, in my opinion, they do not completely fall within the government's assumed intentions - somehow they do not fit. There is even the danger that the Strategy might be completely rejected by the government if more than one such disputed matter comes to light or if there simply isn't money for it.

My argument is that the Strategy should include short-term aims (those for which money could be found in the budget and to which the government would agree) and medium-term aims (perhaps those which the government does not like but must admit the importance of and that something must be done with them). I would view, for example, segregation in Czech education, or a change to the rules governing the investigation of crimes by the Czech Police, or getting rid of the state administration's handicap with respect to municipal governments, etc., as such medium-term aims.

Then there would be long-term aims, a sort of vision for 20 years into the future, which of course should loom large, clearly and obviously, in each ministry, i.e., we have no money, taste for or strength for these matters for the time being, but they are our long-term aim. Perhaps this category could include measures that would lead to a change of atmosphere in society and to an understanding that, for example, intolerance in a society does the worst possible kind of damage to its economy.

It generally seems there is neither an ambition to take such an approach nor a taste for it. I value the work of the bureaucrats at the ministries, but on the other hand I know something about their obligatory loyalty to their bosses, who set the limits of their work. I feel no obligation to honor such restrictions.

In any event, however, I can say that democracy has really developed nicely for us during these past 20 years - it has leveled off at a boundary which both this government and those below it have accepted as a tolerable norm in the given situation. With a certain bitterness, given my years of experience, I must admit that the situation is not the very worst we have ever known.

Gwendolyn Albert, Karel Holomek, Karel Holomek, chair of the Society of Roma in Moravia, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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