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Commentary: When socialists give up on equality

Prague, 25.11.2014 18:54, (ROMEA)
From left to right:  Bohuslav Sobotka, Jiří Dientsbier and Michaela Marksová-Tominová (Collage:
From left to right: Bohuslav Sobotka, Jiří Dientsbier and Michaela Marksová-Tominová (Collage:

The Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) is sitting in a Government that has now frozen welfare, supports discrimination against Romani children and refuses to address a local coalition with the extreme-right DSSS. In this context, it is understandable that people are now tending to vote for parties outside the system.

They have frozen our welfare, including the livelihood and subsistence minimums, the benefit for caregivers for persons with disabilities, maternity leave benefits and childcare benefits. The problem, reportedly, is that people in this country are not motivated to work.

The Government will respond to that by increasing the minimum wage in the new year to a whole CZK 9 000 (EUR 326) per month - before taxes. According to well-informed sources, these moves are the result of the tripartite negotiations in the coalition.

Reportedly the Government has been caving in to both the employers and the trade unions. The minimum wage in the Czech Republic is really a mockery, even after next year's increase.

The livelihood minimum (the minimum socially recognized limit of income necessary to ensure nutrition and other basic personal needs) of CZK 3 410 (EUR 124) and the subsistence minimum (the minimum limit considered essential to ensure nutrition and other basic personal needs at a level just facilitating survival) of CZK 2 200 (EUR 80) will be frozen, and families with children, single mothers and those caring for persons with disabilities will therefore be punished. The minimum wage will still not be dignified remuneration for work - not even in the Czech Republic.

Those decisions were announced at the end of the week before last and we wrote about them in Deník Referendum at the time. Then more hard-to-believe news arrived yesterday.

The Social Democrats in Duchcov who created a coalition with the DSSS were supposed to be expelled from the party. Except they won't be, because the Regional Executive Committee has not closed down the party cell there - it could find no reason why such a coalition might violate the ČSSD statutes.

In September the European Commission threatened to sue the country over the high number of Romani children in special education here. Now, to top it all off, the Government, according to Czech Radio, has finally responded to them, claiming that the Czech Republic does not discriminate against Romani children - or at least, that there are no reliable data on such discrimination - and claiming in general that the Commission has no right to make such an inquiry regarding education.

So:  The Czech Social Democrats are sitting in a Government that addresses the problem of a low minimum wage by freezing already-low welfare benefits (arguing, moreover, that people are not motivated to work), that denies the discrimination of Romani children in education, and that refuses to address a local coalition with an ultra-right party. The fact that the DSSS has not been banned and is therefore "legitimate" does not hold up as an argument.

Voters cast their votes for political parties not just on the basis of their programs, but of their ideology. The ideology of social democracy directly contravenes that of the ultra-nationalists.

These ideologies clash to such an extent that it is a problem even at the local level.The news, therefore, all looks like a joke - or have the ČSSD representatives gone crazy and decided to solve problems by enhancing the very things that cause them?

Everyone knows, for example, that there is a problem with coexistence between ethnic Czechs and Romani people in the Czech Republic. One of the basic pillars of that problem is the Romani population's low level of educational achievement.

The Czech Republic has long been criticized for its discrimination against Romani children's access to education. Whoever doesn't believe this discrimination exists should go take a look at the schools in this country attended solely by Romani children.

Or read the reports about how schools refuse to even enroll Romani children. Or reflect on your own prejudices about Roma and then imagine you are a school director.

We can invent thousands of intellectual constructs as to why integration is impossible, we can weave theories that claim the Roma basically want this situation, we can claim that black is white and that no discrimination is occurring, we can argue in favor of the "practical schools" - but who, if not the socialists, should be doing everything they can to change it? Or at least improve it so that at least some of the children who are now a priori condemned to a life on the fringe of society get a chance?

There is probably no one else. So:  We will evidently address low incomes by trampling on the most vulnerable groups, we will address interethnic social conflict by concluding pacts with right-wing extremists, and we will address the social exclusion of Romani people by excluding them even more.

The outlook is bleak - with this kind of approach, an explosion awaits us. In the context of this news, it seems understandable that people will tend more and more to vote for parties outside the system and seek alternatives where none exist - but where they at least feel a sense of hope, if only for a moment.

First published on news server Deník Referendum.

Saša Uhlová, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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