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Commentary by Karel Holomek: It's all up to the mayor of Nový Bydžov

Brno, 27.1.2011 23:34, (Lidové noviny)
Karel Holomek

The mayor of Nový Bydžov has called on his colleagues in other towns and villages to take action to make sure the state finally imposes some order. His message is understood to concern imposing order on members of the Roma community, even though the fine print at the end of his letter does admit that some "decent" Roma do also exist.

I am aware that I will be condemned on all sides when I say that the mayor is turning to the wrong place for help (i.e., to the state). The curses that will fall on my head will come from the short-sighted in particular. The mayor is one of them.

The state, for all of the criticism we might subject it to, does offer a solution for the mayor's difficulties. What the mayor of Nový Bydžov wants, however, is already almost completely solely up to him.

Welfare abuse is a cliché

In the first paragraph of his letter, the mayor refers to social welfare abuse. The government is said to have cut benefits only to the detriment of those who honestly deserve them and is otherwise doing nothing. Mr Mayor does not know what he is talking about. I would be very surprised if any bureaucrat working for a municipal social welfare department or the Labor Office ever awarded benefits to someone that were even a fraction more than they actually deserved. The law is completely clear on this and members of the Roma community enjoy no privileges in the welfare system.

In my experience, welfare benefits have recently been reduced so greatly that they are causing simply unbearable situations for many people, mainly for Roma families. Even if this were not the case, it would not be the fault of the Roma, for benefits are established and disbursed by the state, and if something is wrong with the system, then the state should fix it. The municipalities entrusted with disbursing the benefits, which are merely extensions of the state in this regard, have this process firmly in their control. Here we can certainly see that the mayor is way off base in his reasoning. The solution to his problems does not lie in addressing "welfare abuse", but in precisely and strictly monitoring the system and instituting an active employment policy to give people work. However, there simply is no work - mainly, there is no work for Roma people in particular, for various reasons. Welfare abuse is just a cliché that excites people like Mayor Louda - and because such people are visible, others believe them. Even if it is the most obvious foolishness, no one will ever remove this label from the Roma once it has been applied.

Let's read on: The mayor says welfare benefits have no "ceiling" - the more children, the more money you get without working! Here the mayor is so obviously ignorant he should resign and let someone educated take over. He then claims the state is supporting the wealthy firms that own gambling machines, which are robbing families and children of their money. A municipality cannot refuse to have a gaming room on its territory, because the law does not permit that kind of intervention. There are some signs of rationality in this section of the letter - but municipalities are definitely not as completely helpless as the mayor describes. Options do exist to at least restrict the number of gaming rooms on municipal territory. The city of Brno has succeeded rather well with this. I hear the mayor has Czech MP Řápková on his side, and I look forward to seeing her fight for restrictions on the fabulously wealthy firms concerned.

Why, the mayor's letter goes on to ask, are municipalities forced to take care of hundreds of Roma not just from other villages, but also from foreign countries? All they do is make a mess and stir up trouble. Here we must take exception! All of the municipalities in this country, and their magistrates and their mayors, are contributing to this export of difficulties in the form of "inadaptable" people. Were the Roma ghettos created because the Roma wanted them? Let's just remember the activities of Mr Čunek, once the mayor of Vsetín. He gave us an excellent example of this principle, evicting "his" Roma and sending them to live in ruins - not just outside the municipality, but in an entirely different region! Mr Čunek is still a Czech senator, so Mayor Louda can turn to him now as well - he is a legislator and together they will certainly find a viable way to fight this foreign invasion. Čunek was the one who gave the first relocation order, the results of which remain with us today. Disasters the likes of which we have never seen before lie ahead of us as well, because of these moves - not just for the Roma, but for the municipalities themselves, as is already clear.

Mr Mayor, you are almost a totally unrestricted leader and potentate in your town, you have both the state and the municipal police available to you, you have officials who can monitor situations, draw conclusions, and eventually initiate sanctions. What more do you want from the state? Just send the police after those who are disturbing the peace and have them intervene fast! If it will be necessary, and if everything takes place according to the law, I'll even come and confirm for you that the situation is not about racism, but about maintaining public order. However, you must remember that you can only intervene against those who actually do something. You can't tar everyone with the same brush. You also have to be aware that police intervention is not a solution, but an immediate administrative step for restoring order. Making that distinction is your business, that's what you have people for. If you don't know what to do, then don't be mayor, let someone more competent do the job. After all, you have just shown the whole country your own fecklessness.

You're also going to have to get used to the fact that in this country, foreigners seek asylum, employment, and a homeland. This provides you with opportunities to make use of these people's capabilities and potential, and it's your job - and should be your ambition - to give them a chance and make use of them. The result of your work will depend on it. It's not only too easy to reject this challenge a priori, it's stupid. Complaints about foreigners have always been made only by people who are small, who are unable to handle their own inferiority complexes and incompetence. They blame those at whom it has always been easy to point the finger. The Nazis did that here already!

The bane of the Czech Republic

Last but not least, you mention public benefit work in your letter: You know well that welfare benefits (yes, also for Roma) now depend on the recipients doing exactly this sort of work, and that the benefits are cut if the work is not done. They will also be cut if the town hall is unable to offer public benefit work opportunities. That's a weapon in your hands, and you don't have to throw it away. Maybe you could use it against those people "shooting the breeze" on the square while everyone else is working.

I really did not want to have to mentor you like this, Mr Mayor, but you totally deserve it and I will not apologize. Mayors like you are the bane of this country. Even the official "Strategy for the Fight against Social Exclusion", submitted to the government, says so.

Last but not least, Mr Mayor: Don't complain about the EU. We get such an unbelievable amount of money from them to reduce our deficiencies and incompetence that it is nothing but pure shame to point to them as the guilty party.

It's clear that the road you are on, and the call you have made for support from others, is the wrong path. I am sure enough people can be found to explain it to you. Everything already rests in your own hands, and you don't even realize it!

Gwendolyn Albert, Karel Holomek, Karel Holomek, translated by Gwendolyn Albert, http://www.lidovky.cz/vse-je-v-rukou-starosty-bydzova-dn9-/ln_noviny.asp?c=A110121_000052_ln_noviny_sko&klic=240919&mes=110121_0
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