Commentary: A visit to the mayor of Nový Bydžov
When I first heard the statements being made by the mayor of Nový Bydžov about the Roma people in his town, I immediately took up the cause and decided to "scalp" the public servant on my blog. While I was writing, however, I not only cooled off but eventually succumbed to self-censorship. The various perspectives on the situation that poured through my mind immediately began to contradict what I had just written down, and I erased the article.
Instead of posting an angry blog, I wrote an e-mail directly to the mayor. Without unnecessary emotion, I suggested a few measures he might want to take which have proven useful in practice here in the town of Děčín. This was quickly followed by one phone call and then another, and in the end I was invited by the mayor to come to Nový Bydžov for a personal meeting concerning my suggestions. I conditioned my participation on the presence of representatives of the local Roma community, as the engagement of local Roma is pivotal to improving co-existence.
In a conference room at the town hall I began talking about Děčín's Crime Prevention Assistants and about the results this blessed activity is now celebrating. I provided freely available press releases issued by the top representatives of local government and the director of the Děčín Municipal Police crediting the assistants for their contributions. "The project is an extension of the long-term activity of the municipal police. As part of that activity, representatives of the Roma community help patrol officers supervise public order as part of community service. This activity has proven very useful to us for more than half a year and the Crime Prevention Assistants project has continued this work in an appropriate way," the mayor of Děčín said.
The director of the Děčín Municipal Police also evaluates the Crime Prevention Assistants project positively. “The assistants have contributed to the discovery of many misdemeanors and persons who are the sources of disorder. Their patrolling on the housing estate has resulted positively in the residents of that locality enjoying a perception of security. We have received favorable feedback about the assistants. They enjoy the necessary authority in the Roma community and their work with problematic individuals within the community is therefore much more effective," the director said.
Josef Čureja, who was present during the meeting in Nový Bydžov as a potential candidate for a similar post there, spoke of the Roma residents all being tarred with the same brush and the fact that a small group of teenagers was putting the entire community into a bad light. Public opinion in the town, therefore, is not positively inclined toward the Roma residents. Another truly unpleasant fact, which deserves a deeper philosophical debate of the phenomenon of "tarring with the same brush", is that the Roma people must now "prove" their decency. This is the mood now dominating the town.
I immediately suppressed my subjective opinion. I am convinced there is a need to change the image of the local Roma by involving them in the process of improving coexistence in the town and that they should actively contribute to resolving the existing situation.
Josef Čureja already has a job, but at the meeting he expressed his willingness to assist the patrol officers after work, for the time being on a volunteer basis, without pay. The town is apparently too small to qualify for a subsidy as part of the Czech Interior Ministry's "Dawn" project, but I don't want to jinx anything. It was agreed that the financial side of the matter could be handled by considering Mr Čureja's contribution as community service. The mayor will meet with the director of the Labor Office to discuss options for employing several members of the Roma community this way.
The state police presence in the town has been enhanced and the Municipal Police Patrol will also get two new members. It immediately occurred to me that these two new members could be long-term Roma residents, people who would enjoy natural authority and already have a certain knowledge of the environment. No Roma have applied, however - or at least none who met the basic criteria (a high school diploma and a clean criminal record). That's a shame.
Once I felt that I had said what I had come there to say, I asked the mayor a few uncomfortable questions. His tendency to address certain matters repressively and uncompromisingly reminded me of a certain North Bohemian mayor and her peculiar approach. I was directly told that the mayor wants to collaborate on the "Initiative of Towns and Villages Addressing the Roma Question", which will lead to the establishment of the necessary legislative arrangements - all of them repressive.
The "Initiative" already has an MP in parliament to represent them. She intends to open up all the questions that are bothering these towns in parliament. In the context of what we had just been discussing, this sounded bizarre. For an hour we had been talking about preventive measures, but at the end of the meeting it was clearly communicated to me that repression will take place simultaneously. The carrot and the stick? I don't know.
I am not able to tell which direction the situation is headed, but I hope all of the town's residents will manage to coexist without any further problems. It's going to be a truly very interesting experience to follow the developments in Nový Bydžov.
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