Czech Christian Democrats want to reinstate Human Rights Minister
With not quite one month to go before elections in the Czech Republic, the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL) are trying to present themselves as an alternative for the areas of education, health care and social welfare policy. Pavel Bělobrádek, chair of the KDU-ČSL, says the party's greatest currency is the fact that its people are professionals unencumbered by any corruption scandals. Polls show the party might see voters return to it this time around. The KDU-ČSL says it wants to concentrate on halting the decline in the country's educational achievement and changing its approach toward financing social services.
Those claims were made at the party's program conference on Friday, 14 September, which included expert panels on various topics, one of which was dedicated to social exclusion. Speakers on that panel included the sociologist Ivan Gabal, Czech Senator Jiří Čunek (the former party chair), and Josef Baláž, who worked as an adviser to Čunek during his previous tenure as Regional Development Minister.
Should the Christian Democrats get the opportunity to influence the government's agenda once again, they would advocate for reinstating the post of Minister for Human Rights and Minorities, or failing that, would insist that the topic of integration be managed by a single ministry. Bělobrádek and Gabal said the current government is completely ignoring integration policy while the problem of social exclusion continues to grow - and not just the exclusion of Romani people. Gabal is running for the Czech Senate as an independent with the support of the Christian Democrats and the Greens.
"No one in the Government is focusing on these matters at all. Once prevention stops, repression begins, which means this ends up being handled by the Interior Ministry, and we will spend enormous sums of money addressing unrest, of which we have already seen indications," Bělobrádek told journalists during the party's program conference. In his view, money must mainly be invested into education so children from socially excluded areas have the hope of reaching high school at the very least. "Children born into bad circumstances have no chance of achieving a quality education," he stated. The chair also said the party wants to develop a solution to the problem of social exclusion together with experts and that one of the party's upcoming all-day conferences will be devoted solely to that issue.
Gabal said the map of socially excluded localities in the country exactly overlaps with the places where pupils achieve the worst educational results according to comparative international tests. In his view, there is a need to focus not only on Romani people, but on everyone living in the regions affected by social exclusion, i.e., northwestern Bohemia and the Moravian-Silesian and Olomouc Regions. "This is a regional problem. We won't address localities, the problem of Romani localities, we must address the problem of the Karlovy Vary, Liberec, Moravian-Silesian and Olomouc Regions," he said.
Gabal said the current government completely changed direction when it decided not to implement its own integration policy. The worst reflection of that has been in the schools, which "are unable to teach children who don't study at home". Gabal said of the four regions he named that "What we want to do with improving school quality must be done for all children. The educational opportunities and paths in those four regions have been deformed, and reduced literacy there affects non-Romani children as well." The sociologist said it is also necessary to address the redistribution of social welfare benefits for housing so that tenants who qualify for such benefits apply them to apartments that are rent-controlled.
Czech Senator Čunek said he sees the schools as providing the way out of the problems of social exclusion. When Čunek was mayor of the town of Vsetín, he forcibly removed Romani residents from that town, housing some of them in metal "container" housing on its outskirts. More than six years after the criticism that move earned him, he still claims it was not only a good solution, but one that is customary in other European states.
Čunek said Romani integration could be achieved by minimizing the amount of time children spend in the ghettos. He sees the prescription for change as lying in mandatory tutoring. In his speech, he recalled Empress Maria Theresa, who in his view understood that she had to arrange the re-education of Romani children and therefore removed them from their families and gave them to non-Romani parents so as to lift the burden of their Romani ancestry from them. "It is not correct to remove children from their parents for a lengthy amount of time, it's good for them to be in contact with their families. Nevertheless, they should have as little contact as possible with their families during the day," he said. Čunek, who is up for re-election next month, also said adults should be "obliged to work off their welfare".
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