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Czech Communist Party chair: Roma aren't denied rights by any laws, our system doesn't allow it, and most Roma don't declare their nationality

4.10.2021 11:09
Vojtěch Filip (PHOTO: Facebook page of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia - KSČM)
Vojtěch Filip (PHOTO: Facebook page of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia - KSČM)

According to Vojtěch Filip, chair of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM) and its lead candidate in the elections to the lower house this next weekend, most Romani people in the Czech Republic do not declare their membership in the Romani community. According to him, that community has is own rules and anybody who doesn't want to live in accordance with them will be forced to leave it.  

Filip made the remarks in an interview for news server Romea.cz. He also said it is decidedly not the case that Romani people are denied their rights by any laws currently in place.

"Our legal system can't even facilitate that. However, the creation of social stigma can, in some cases, lead to instances of unfair treatment," Filip said. 

Election season interviews by Romea.cz

News server Romea.cz contacted the seven leaders of the political coalitions and parties that have a chance of entering the Chamber of Deputies during the elections to the lower house this year. We based our choice on polls conducted by the Kantar agency during September and sent the same set of questions to the candidates Robert Šlachta (Přísaha - The Oath), Jan Hamáček (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD), Vojtěch Filip (KSČM), Tomio Okamura ("Freedom and Direct Democracy" - SPD), Ivan Bartoš (Pirates + STAN - Mayors and Independents), Petr Fiala (of the Spolu - Together coalition) and Andrej Babiš (of the governing ANO party). 

We are gradually publishing their responses in this order, from the candidates who are less popular to those who are the most popular. The first candidate was meant to have been Šlachta, but he never sent us his responses.

On Saturday, 2 October we published our interviews beginning with the statewide leader of the Social Democrats, Hamáček. Today we are publishing our interview with the statewide leader and chair of the KSČM, Vojtěch Filip.

Q: Some parties are speaking about what they are calling the abuse of welfare by "inadaptables". Do you agree that such a problem exists? Are benefts being abused on a massive scale? If so, what is the financial volume involved?

A: Yes, we agree that there is a certain group of inhabitants that has created their own lifestyle based on the welfare system. More and more often, in the structurally-afflicted districts and regions, we are also addressing problematic coexistence between ordinary citizens and some of the socially vulnerable citizens who are dependent on welfare and who make use of rental housing first and foremost. Unfortunately, among them can be found persons who are incapable of following the basic rules of decent behavior and coexistence. They create a lot of disorder and noise for those around them, and unfortunately, physical or verbal attacks on others also happen. However, we are not saying benefits are being abused on a massive scale. According to the current system, benefits are always disbursed according to the background materials submitted and the fulfillment of the criteria for eligibility. We are speaking here, above all, about benefits intended for housing (the housing contribution and the housing supplement), which are quite frequently being drawn by people who then reside in conditions that are hygienically unsatisfactory. The rental contracts for such units are far more expensive than for standard rentals. This is what is called the business in poverty. The owners of these units are frequently based abroad, or they live in a district or region other than the one where they own these rental properties. They own these units just for the purpose of making money. Essentially it is all the same to these landlords what the unit looks like or who resides there, the main thing for them is that the financial flow be guaranteed by the state. For that reason, we are also discussing amending the law to distinctly limit the opportunities for these parasites to cash in on citizens drawing beneifts to cover their housing needs. It is also the case that the impossibility of the longterm unemployed ever finding another job has to be addressed, that the number of children who have not completed primary education is constantly growing, and that as adults those children will automatically end up registering with the Labor Office for unemployment benefits. For that reason, we want a law on social enterprises, a revision of the welfare system, we want to restore the trade of "leasing apartment units" to the legislation on licensed trades, we want the option of cancelling the child supplement for parents whose children are truant, and we want to unify the two housing benefits into one that would be permanently set up with just an annual cost-of-living increase. 

Q:  In what context do you use the term "inadaptable", and who are you talking about? If you don't use it, could you please explain why?        

A:  In the town of Most, for example, we hear this term from locals basically every day. We prefer the term "socially excluded", because this can also be about people who have been formed by living in a difficult, long-term situation or surroundings, etc. However, generally this term is not used to refer to just anybody who is "on welfare", decidedly not. These are citizens who do not work at all, who are absolutely dependent on the welfare system, and who unfortunately never manage to adapt to ordinary life, to coexistence with everybody else. In many respects, these people don't even want to adapt. Moreover, what decides the use of this term is not membership in a minority group. Above all, this is about the behavior of the individual. In the Ústecký Region, the concentration of such people is one of the highest, and for that reason we have long been grappling with many unsolved problems here.    

Q:  The prices of real estate and rental housing are constantly growing and housing is becoming unaffordable for ordinary families. Is the building of social apartments the solution? Will you be seeing through a law on social housing?  

A:  We will certainly also be advocating for a law on social housing, but that is just one part of the problem. Currently housing is unaffordable even for families with slightly below-average incomes because housing prices are quite inflated. It is possible to resolve that issue only through state support for the massive municipal and cooperative construction of apartment units, and that could aid with lowering rents. For us the crucial concept is "affordable housing" - i.e., housing provided at cost, not for the profits of privateers, and also protecting tenants by enforcing reasonable rents and the control of other costs associated with housing (energy, water, waste removal).  
 
Q:  How would you like to prevent trafficking in poverty?

That is connected to the business of poverty, private individuals charge disproportionate prices in order to access their tenants' housing supplements - but this is also about debt collectors. Municipalities should buy back the apartment units that used to be allocated for social purposes, cap the rents and therefore the housing supplements that can be drawn there and, of course, it is also necessary to liquidate disproportionate debts by forgiving the debt servicing charges, by requiring a user-friendly repayment regime, and by restoring state control over collections.

Q:  The Constitutional Court has abolished the housing benefit-free zones. What is your opinion of that decision? Will you advocate for the adoption of such a law in the future?

A:  Housing benefit-free zones, if they are already de facto being created, should not apply to an entire town and should not boost ghettoization and "no-go" zones in municipalities. At some housing estates, rent defaulters are a special problem. What is necessary is a more humane regime for debt payment, these collections agents have to be "tamed". This is also about auditing social housing - landlords should not be able to receive housing supplements from the state for accommodation that is, frequently, a wreck.   

Q:  Are you considering legislating compulsory school attendance until age 18, as is the case elsewhere in the world, to guarantee that some children, after primary school, don't fall out of the education system?

A:  We are not opposed to discussing extending mandatory school attendance, but first there has to be an analysis of the current situation and the eventual impacts of such a change, both positive and negative. However, what I consider important is participation in preschool education, which significantly aids in equalizing differences at the beginning of the child's educational career. This can also contribute to limiting early dropout. Systematic work with families is also quite important, including the motivation to send children to school. One measure that has proven itself in different regions is serving lunch at nursery schools and in lower primary education free of charge. According to investigations, school attendance and achievements have improved in such localities. We want to renew workshops in the primary schools, where pupils who are not able to work with subjects at a theoretical level can still apply themselves and experience a feeling of success. At the same time, these pupils develop a relationship to a craft there and an interest in continuing their studies. The KSČM also advocates for affordable hobbies, free school hobby groups, and tax deductions for parents for their children's activities outside of school.  

Q:  Some regions, for example, the Ústecký Region, are considered below-average compared to others in terms of education. How do you plan to improve the situations in regions where there have long been lower numbers of high school and college graduates?  

A:  In the Czech Republic, inequality in access to education is a big problem, and not just in the Ústecký Region. Economic differences among families are contributing to this, the number of those falling to the poverty line or below it is increasing. Many parents frequently cannot afford to send their children to higher education, which means the student is forced to regularly make money during his or her studies in order to be able to study at all. It's no surprise that many can't cope and leave their studies. I see the solution as eliminating the causes of poverty so that each individual has a job that pays a dignified wage and has affordable housing. The primary schools should have a unified educational program, and they should also be differentiated internally so they can develop the interests and talents of each pupil. It is necessary to attract qualified teachers - salaries, working conditions, housing, motivation, and a stabilizing contribution to convince them to stay in the region.         

Q:  What is your opinion of the targeted support for the education of Romani students? Specifically, for example, scholarships for Romani high school or college students? How can we increase the levels of education achieved by Romani men and women in the Czech Republic?

A:  Distance learning has intensified inequality in education. The KSČM is for tuition-free education in all grades of school, for providing textbooks and basic teaching aids for free in the primary and secondary schools, and we want to provide Internet free of charge to households with children, as well as scholarships based on both achievement and social need. At the same time, we are demanding the expansion of the capacity of the student accommodation facilities and dormitories and the lowering of the prices charged for such accommodation. We support apprenticeships and technical education as well as the compliance of educational fields with the changing labor market. We consider collaborations between firms and schools quite important. 

Q:  What does your party have in its electoral program in terms of proposals for the inclusion of Romani people?

A:  Romani people have always been part of our society. We do not believe that how a person generally behaves, in terms of the rules of society and values, depends on whether that person is part of the majority or a minority. Practical experience shows that the problem is rather the reverse. In concrete terms, the Romani community - to which, however, most Roma do not subscribe - has its own rules above all and its own so-called small laws. If these are broken, or if somebody doesn't want to live according to those rules, then they are frequently forced to leave the community. Certainly there are prejudices among the other citizens toward the Romani community, but those are a consequence of all the problems touched on above. It is decidedly not the case that Romani people are denied their rights by any laws that are currently in place. Our legal system can't even facilitate that. However, the creation of social stigma can, in some cases, lead to instances of unfair treatment. This is, above all, about the development of society itself, which in many regards is reassessing its own stances, first and foremost among the younger generation. We consider it necessary to address these problems from the time children begin school, especially with the younger generation - in order to overcome barriers, education is quite important, chiefly, and a big role can also be played by field social workers, and it is necessary to allocate more resources to their activities.    

Q:  In the socially excluded localities, voter turnout has long been low. How do you explain that?

A:  This is because of the low levels of education achieved among those who live in such places and their lack of interest in what is happening in society. If we're speaking about the excluded localities, then absolutely other interests and priorities predominate there. For the most part, we're talking about socially vulnerable inhabitants who are addressing how to meet their immediate needs first and foremost. From their perspective, politics is something superfluous because it is not going to yield them the financial or other aid that they immediately need. 

Q:  Do you have any Romani men or women running as candidates? If not, why, and if so - why?

A:  In the past, Romani people were on our candidate list, this year they are not, but it's never been our intention, not then and not now - when putting the candidate lists together we pay attention to how active the proposed candidates are, not to whether they belong to a minority.

Q:  What specific steps should the Government take during the next parliamentary session so that the state sufficiently prepares itself for the threat of yet another COVID-19 wave or for a different pandemic in the near future?

Here it is necessary to learn from the mistakes of the 2020-2021 period. We need to revise the pandemic plans, for example, to boost the role of the public health officials, to procure health care supplies without obscure purchases (management of the material reserves), to clearly designate who is responsible for crisis management (crisis communications, "Smart Quarantine"), and to revise the legal framework once the law on the pandemic that is now in effect ends in February 2022. As far as compensation and support programs go, there could be fewer of these with simpler agendas and more timely delivery. 

Q: How, in your view, should immunizations take place? Should they be compulsory, for example? Should that be for all, or just for certain professions that customarily come into contact with a wider group of people?

A: We are not inclined toward compulsory immunization against COVID-19, but we are for far greater outreach and targeted refutation of the disinformation that is circulating. 

Q: How do you plan to approach immunizations in socially excluded localities? Are you planning more outreach about vaccination, or even social work right in the field that could motivate the inhabitants of such places to get immunized? Will your party address this in any special way?

Both direct field work and outreach are important in the socially excluded localities. The outreach must be performed by a person whom locals know and whom they trust.

Rena Horvátová, Zdeněk Ryšavý, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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campaign, elections 2021, KSČM, Předvolební rozhovory 2021



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