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July 4, 2022



Commentary: I'd like a Czech ombudsman who solves problems instead of adding fuel to the fire

17.2.2022 11:09
Lucie Plešková (2022) (PHOTO: Open Society Fund Prague)
Lucie Plešková (2022) (PHOTO: Open Society Fund Prague)

We certainly have many problems in this country and society that are not absolutely easy to solve; their history is complex, and unraveling them is even more complicated. Reaching consensus on how to do this, as well as generating the necessary political will, finding the time, and frequently, finding the resources to do this - none of that is easy.

Politicians at the local and national levels here know this. The people who are trying to change things where they live know this too.

The civic initiatives and non-profit organizations that want to help solve various problems also know this. One such topic that repeatedly comes to the surface here is that of the socially excluded localities.

Much has been written about how these localities arise, why they are problematic, and why various pathological phenomena accumulate in them. Much has also been written about why it is so difficult for their inhabitants to solve this situation on their own.

Anybody who has ever dealt with this problem knows that there is not just a sole culprit involved, that the solution to this is complicated and requires cooperation from everybody, as with any similarly complex issue. It should be added that this issue is even more complex because solving it will not yield anybody political rewards, because the municipalities that do not have a housing fund suitable for social housing will face challenges, and above all because it is marked by a number of racial and other prejudices.

Nevertheless, we also have a number of promising examples proving that things can move forward. Community work in many localities yields results by involving residents in caring for the environment in which they live and in improving their relations with those around them.

Projects focused on social housing show very good results in a surprisingly short amount of time. We also have municipalities that have approached the problem comprehensively, addressing both excluded localities and their related education and employment issues.

Yes, it's not easy, and things don't always work out as anticipated. Solving this problem requires long-term effort.

I am convinced we can contribute to solving this problem by supporting these positive examples, talking about them, and looking for ways to inspire others to solve them. The ombudsman, for example, is meant to protect citizens from discrimination - providing them with support and methodological assistance is directly in his job description.

However, in this country [the Czech Republic], the ombudsman is usually the first to score political points by taking cheap "digs" at the people living in poverty and social exclusion and by attacking the Roma. He is far from alone, of course, since a number of politicians and other public officials behave similarly here, but it is all the more alarming given the office he holds.

Mr. Křeček claims to have visited "all" of this country's excluded localities. When was the last time he went into the field to take a closer look at examples of good practice, though, to support them, or to publicly praise them as inspiration for others?

Has the current ombudsman ever seen Mr. Emil Voráč in Nové Sedlo and how his association works with the local community? Has he visited Krnov, where a local primary school, in cooperation with a non-profit organization, is running an afternoon club for schoolchildren at the very heart of the excluded locality?

When did he ever go to Jihlava, or to other places where "Housing First" works successfully? When has he ever spoken with Claudia Laburdová, who leads active groups of Romani women and young people in many excluded localities throughout the country?

When has he ever met Miroslav Klempár and Magdaléna Karvayová, who work with Romani parents to successfully promote the enrollment of their children into non-segregated schools? When has he ever joined the ROMEA scholarship recipients who are motivating children from excluded localities to continued their educations?

When was the last time he even spoke with the residents of excluded localities?! I would like it if the ombudsman would be the one to point out the exclusion problem.

The ombudsman is the official who could explain, not just to the majority society, but also to representatives of the authorities and state institutions, that they too are a cause of this problem, that they are part of it, and that something needs to be done about it. The ombudsman could then offer proposals for possible ways forward, or examples of how to deal with such situations.

He could make an active contribution to the solution. I believe that if there are more such voices in the public space, the chances of our actually moving this problem toward a solution will increase many times over. 

Heaping abuse on various "culprits" and pointing the finger at them will never change anything. The ombudsman should be the last person ever to add fuel to the fire.

Lucie Plešková is a program manager at the OSF Foundation. Reprinted from with the author's consent.

Lucie Plešková, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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