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Commentary by Central Bohemian Romani Coordinator: Political correctness, Czech style

Prague, 8.2.2012 18:04, (ROMEA)
Cyril Koky, Coordinator for Romani Affairs and Alien Integration, Social Affairs Department, Central Bohemian Regional Authority

Here in the Czech Republic, quite a few politicians at all levels today are literally feeding off of strong anti-Romani statements and exaggerations. These politicians often speak negatively of "political correctness" in relation to Romani people, of "hypocrisy", of "pseudo-humanists" who are said to be preventing the successful solution of these problems. Very often it is all the same to these politicians that they themselves offer no solutions and that their remarks often serve only to exacerbate the entire issue. They are harming the reputation of the entire Romani population in the eyes of the general public.

Municipal politicians such as Čunek, Janáčková and Řápková, thanks to their radical posing with respect to Romani people, have rocketed to the highest levels of state politics, becoming MPs or senators. If I were to recall the "greatest hits" of such politicians, I cannot leave out the Mayor of Nový Bydžov, who had the following very harsh declaration posted to the town's official website: "Gypsies are annoying us, raping and stealing". For that, he earned a criminal complaint against him.

I also certainly cannot forget Mr Doubrava, a senator and representative of Ústí Region from the "Severočeši.cz " movement ("NorthBohemians.cz"), who comments rather often in very uncomplimentary terms on the situation of Romani people for the newspaper Parlamentní listy. He has become particularly famous for saying he would not hesitate, at a time of social unrest, to send the army into Ústí Region against Romani residents there.

Jiří Šulc, a former regional governor, now an MP for the Civic Democrats, (ODS), said in an exclusive commentary - also for Parlamentní listy - that "It is normal for Gypsies to not work and to steal." It must be added that both of these gentlemen have for many years been among the better-known politicians in Ústí Region and that they each bear a certain share of the blame for the current unflattering situation in that region.

The question is what a politician in a democracy should and should not say. What is respectable and what is not? Is it just the intention of many municipal politicians to play the "Romani card" so they can hang on to their place in the political sun? If that is really what is happening, it is malicious and stupid. Is there any effective defense against their remarks?

We must openly acknowledge that Romani people themselves very often provide the "ammunition" for the unflattering remarks made about them. They provide it through their behavior and through the harsh statements that are primarily made to the media by some Romani leaders in the regions.

From the point of view of society as a whole, it is essential that this delicate issue be addressed, because this phenomenon is endangering social cohesion, exacerbating relations between the majority and the Romani minority, and increasing the risk that extremism and anti-Romani sentiment will spread in society. Understandably, this deteriorates the situation even further and intensifies the crisis in our coexistence with one another.

It is clear that with the upcoming regional and Senate elections not only right-wing extremists will start sponging off of the issue of poverty and social exclusion, but that political parties espousing democratic values will do the same. Their aim is clear: To win the elections! Nevertheless, political parties (and movements) should clearly declare what their program is and what concretely they intend to do to address this in their regions.

The standard of living of a certain part of the Romani population, as compared to life under the previous regime, has significantly deteriorated. Unfortunately, that is an unvarnished fact. Many have long been unemployed and are in debt. The socially excluded Romani localities, the ghettos, came into being after November 1989 in particular, under the new conditions.

The state is not sufficiently addressing this - not the top national politicians, not the regional ones, and not the local ones. Unfortunately, this issue is often exploited by many of them, municipal politicians in particular, to further their own political careers. Many of these politicians, primarily mayors, have long underestimated the situation and now are calling for radical solutions. Unfortunately, even the Romani elites have not managed to gain adequate political influence to participate in addressing the situation either.

Even though Romani people in the Czech Republic have come a long way during the last 22 years, the process of our prosperous inclusion into society is unfortunately not turning out as we would like. There continues to be a rather large portion of Romani people living in unacceptable conditions on the outskirts of society. The desperate situation in which they find themselves is not just their failure, but the failure of us all.

Gwendolyn Albert, Cyril Koky, Cyril Koky, Coordinator for Romani Affairs and Alien Integration, Social Affairs Department, Central Bohemian Regional Authority, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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