Czech city with homeless evictees refused Govt Agency for Social Inclusion help, some local Roma petitioned against it
The local assembly in the Czech city of Ústí nad Labem refused to collaborate with the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion at a meeting last month. Those in favor of the collaboration were just two assembly members from the movement "Pro! Ústí" ("For! Ústí").
A petition organized by some Romani residents of the city was also against such collaboration. "I do not absolutely identify with that material," said Deputy Mayor Jiří Madar of the Ústecký Citizens' Forum (Ústecký fórum občanů - UFO) party, who is tasked with the city's possible application, during the opening session.
Deputy Mayor Madar on collaboration with the Agency: We need money, not analyses
"We have agreed with local residents - Romani people - that the city knows how to resolve this problem on its own. The Agency just offers soft money, but we need hard money to buy real estate," Madar said.
"My motion is that I disagree with applying to the Agency," he said at the close of his opening remarks. David Beňák, director of the Agency, commented to news server Romea.cz on the rejection of the collaboration as follows: "The Agency offered aid to the city from a long-term perspective, for example, with addressing the problem of the residential hotels. The city would have gotten an opportunity to see what its situation looks like to those from outside. A perspective from elsewhere frequently assists with pushing matters forward."
"Municipal representatives usually most appreciate our ability to address problems in a specific locality on the basis of a thorough baseline analysis, experience from other municipalities, and the personal encounters between our consultants and all the institutions and organizations locally involved. Measures about which agreement would be reached with the other partners could then be financed from EU funds," the director said.
The Agency was defended at the assembly meeting by Michal Kratochvíl, head of its Regional Center West, which is headquartered in Ústí nad Labem. He rejected the allegation that the Agency's support was not necessary, noting that dozens of other municipalities are interested in such collaboration.
Kratochvíl also argued that the Agency does represent an opportunity for the city to acquire financing. "I would correct the Deputy Mayor's claim that we do not offer an opportunity to acquire investment financing. We are also able to raise investment packages for the city," he said.
"During the previous term of office the Agency worked here and the experience was absolutely crazy," said local assembly member Pavel Dlouhý (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD). The Agency worked in the city from 2008-2012.
"After two years, [the Agency] submitted an analysis with the recommendation that we should order another analysis from a subcontractor to erect a building for CZK 25 million [EUR 1 million] where there would be a community center. They did not bring us a single crown from Prague, it was a waste of time. Fortunately, your predecessors then got rid of them and that was fine," Dlouhý told the assembly.
"If we have to apply [to the Agency], then you will assess us, give us points, and then vote on whether or not to work with us, so you know where you can go with that," the ČSSD assembly member said. Kratochvíl then admitted that mistakes had been made by the Agency in the past, but alleged that the situation today is a different one.
Madar then criticized the conditions for the use of investment financing from the Agency. "The conditions mean that we will move excluded localities into nice neighborhoods. We need to buy the real estate in the excluded localities and reconstruct it. We don't need analyses, we need money," he said.
Anti-Agency petition from Roma who collaborate with UFO
Irena Moudrá Wünschová of "Pro! Ústí" then said analyses are necessary. "It is not true that we know how to cope. That is being demonstrated today when 'measures of a general nature' are being announced in the city," she said, referencing the ability to designate neighborhoods as addresses where state housing benefits will not be disbursed to otherwise eligible residents.
Other assembly members, however, were of the same opinion as the Deputy Mayor. "The Agency for Social Inclusion has come here to tick off a box and say it is collaborating with the city. We need reform of the entire Agency, which has gotten into playing the role of an observer and that's all. We do not need an observer, we need specific people and actions to begin to change this city," said Martin Mata, who was elected to the assembly for the ANO movement in 2014 and became the second Deputy Mayor responsible for budget and finance at that time.
Mata was in that office until June 2015 when the local ANO cell fell apart and some assembly members for ANO recalled their own mayor. The next mayor after that is the incumbent, Věra Nechybová, who was previously in ANO also.
Czech media reported on the machinations as a "putsch" in the city government. Mata remained an unaffiliated assembly member.
"There are representatives of a petition committee here. That, too, is a consequence of the Agency's work, that the Roma themselves are against you," Mata said, referring to the citizens' petition against bringing the Agency back.
"Today a petition arrived against collaboration with the Agency and it has dozens, maybe more than 100 signatures," said Mayor Nechybová (UFO) at the beginning of the meeting. The representative of the petition committee who appeared at the assembly meeting was Tibor Gaži.
"We are appealing to the assembly, as Romani community members who work and who know the city and local conditions, not to bring the city once again into absurd projects that will bring us nothing. Be aware that you are not just feeding the inadaptables, but all the parasitic nonprofits that raise no small amount of money from their inadaptability. Aren't they just other traffickers in poverty hiding behind a mask of aid?" Gaži read from a prepared statement that was rewarded with applause.
Gaži then added that he agreed with what Mata had said. The mayor responded by saying "I thank you for your active collaboration and for the motions aiding with addressing, for example, the dump on Sklářská Street. I am glad a group of people has been found here who care about this city, who want to do something and who know how to communicate with those with whom we are not very good at communicating. It's fine that among you such people have been found and that it works."
Deputy Mayor Madar also thanked the petitioners during the meeting, saying "I am terribly glad we have managed to activate local Romani people and the collaboration is getting somewhere. Thanks go to Mr Cibrik and Mr Gaži."
Miker: Roma collaborating with UFO have sold themselves cheap
Gaži apparently plans to run for local office for UFO this autumn. Some activists and Romani community members, however, are harshly criticizing collaboration with the party.
"They are undercutting our work, they have let themselves be bought cheap, and they are calling impoverished Romani people in the residential hotels 'parasites'. That is really swinishness, that is not Romanipen," Jozef Miker said in an interview for Romani Internet television.
"They are intimidating impoverished people and they should be ashamed of themselves," Miker added. He was referencing an incident that allegedly happened during the assembly session.
When, after several hours of discussion, the issue of residential hotels and social welfare came up on the assembly agenda, some of the Romani tenants of the residential hotels being closed in the city wanted to address the assembly. However, they backed away from their intention to speak because they allegedly were afraid to speak in the presence of the Romani people who had initiated the petition against collaborating with the Agency for Social Inclusion, people who closely cooperate with the Mayor and Deputy Mayor's party.
Jan Cibrik, one of the signatories to the petition, rejected the characterization that the residential hotel tenants did not speak because they were afraid. "They were not afraid. That's what Mr Brož and Mr Miker are saying," he said in an interview for news server Romea.cz.
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