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Czech Deputy Education Minister: Romani people must want to change their own fates

Czech Republic, 18.9.2012 23:04, (ROMEA)

This article continues our series of questions and answer sessions with leading candidates from various political parties and groups running in the upcoming elections to Regional Authorities in the Czech Republic. We asked the candidates for their opinions on the integration of the Romani minority and how they would achieve improvements in this area. We were primarily interested in whether they would be calling upon Romani personalities to collaborate with them, as well as in their positions on education, housing and unemployment levels among people living in socially excluded localities, Romani people included. We also asked whether they intend to achieve calmer co-existence between majority-society and minority people.

Our series continues with the Liberec Region. We sent our questions to these politicians:

Eva Bartoňová - ODS (Civic Democrats)

Lenka Kadlecová - ČSSD (Czech Social Democrats)

Jiří Kočandrle - TOP 09 + Starostové (TOP 09 and Mayors)

Jan Korytář - Změna pro Liberecký kraj (Change for Liberec Region)

Stanislav Mackovík - KSČM (Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia)

Martin Půta - Starostové pro Liberecký kraj (Mayors for Liberec Region)

Only two candidates responded to our questions, Eva Bartoňová and Jan Korytář. Below you can find the position of Eva Bartoňová, Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport. Our questions were:

1. The integration of Romani people in the Czech Republic has so far mostly been conceived of as a one-way affair. Very few decision-makers ask Romani people for their opinions. On the other hand, Romani people themselves often are unfamiliar with the opinions of the majority society and with proposals for political solutions to this issue because no one ever consults them. Would you try to change this through supporting the participation of local Romani representatives? If so, how - what would this inclusion look like in practice? Would you seek to have Romani people listened to during joint meetings? Would you ever have an outstanding Romani personality as an adviser?

2. How would you proceed in addressing the long-term unemployment of people living in socially excluded localities and other poor people, including Romani people living in those localities?

3. How would you approach resolving the housing of the very poorest people, including Romani people, living in socially excluded localities?

4. Would you like to increase educational achievement among the poorest people, including Romani people living in socially excluded localities?

5. How would you like to achieve a better, calmer coexistence between majority-society people and minorities, primarily the Romani minority?

Eva Bartoňová responded to these questions as follows:

"ODS treats all citizens exactly the same way. For me it is not at all important whether I am communicating with a Czech person, and Romani person, or a foreigner living in the Czech Republic. What is important is what that person wants to discuss with me and whether I can concretely assist him. The same applies to choosing my coworkers: I follow purely professional requirements, and what decides a choice for me is whether the job seeker is qualified and whether we understand one another on a personal level.

As far as 'outstanding Romani personalities' go, I am of the opinion that the fundamental problem is that the Romani people themselves are not able to say who represents them. There exist many streams of opinion and a silent majority in Romani society, as there do in the majority population. Moreover, what is 'Romani society'? During the last census only 326 residents of the entire Liberec Region claimed Romani nationality. Who, then, is or is not Romani?

In its general principles, ODS advocates for all citizens enjoying the same rights and fulfilling the same responsibilities. The basic problem the majority society has with Romani people is the feeling that Romani people know their rights very well but very often ignore their responsibilities. The difference, naturally, has to do with lifestyle and temperament. Stereotypes are held on both sides. Romani people very often respond in an exaggerated way to any criticism, even well-intended criticism. Personally, I like the way in which the civic association Český západ is currently working, combining counseling with concrete assistance to job seekers and mainly supporting the education of children and youth. They are achieving concrete results. What has happened in the past is not important - what is important is how to address the future. I think Romani people themselves must want to change their fates. Recently I spoke with a local entrepreneur who has given the same opportunities to Czechs as he has to Romani people. Unfortunately, during the past year, his Romani employees were able to keep working for him for only a few days maximum. Life on welfare is more comfortable for them. If a Czech single mother of two can work, then why can't a young Romani man? They were remunerated in exactly the same way, on the basis of their performance. Stories like this shape Czech people''s opinions of Romani people. By the way, that same entrepreneur also praised a Romani firm that performed earth-moving work near his company's headquarters.

If I am elected Governor, I will meet with representatives of municipalities, the state administration, and nonprofit organizations. Naturally, I will also meet with citizens at various gatherings. I always prefer it when problems are resolved involving everyone concerned. Naturally, I can meet separately with representatives of Romani people in some localities in Liberec Region, but if I am supposed to help them, we must also communicate with the other side. In my view, there is a lack of communication and mutual tolerance on both sides. As Deputy Education Minister I naturally meet with Romani personalities very often and I respect them.

Socially excluded localities are not a problem that regions or individual municipalities can resolve. I see the role of the Governor as lying in facilitating communication between everyone involved. Moreover, the Regional Authority has the option of proposing legislative amendments. Naturally, the best thing would be if no more such localities were to be created. However, as long as it will be possible to make money on the desperate situations of these families and the generous state benefits available for their housing, then would-be "entrepreneurs" will keep moving people in onerous social situations into these same places. Does it seem acceptable to you that the state pays, for example, CZK 6 000 per person to rent a room in a residential hotel when the actual value of such accommodation is more like CZK 200?

Education and the transformation of habits is the basis of everything. It is necessary to cut through the vicious circle of welfare, the dearth of work habits, the visiting of gaming rooms and the commission of crimes. Girls are not mature enough for motherhood at age 15, and drug use is not the solution to any problem, but a horrible end to all hope for the future. Children must learn that it is normal to work, someone must explain to them that education is the key to a better life than most of them now know. The question is whether children can take in such information from a bureaucrat working for social services or any other state institution. Among Romani people themselves there is not much discussion of positive role models - unfortunately, it is not often the case that your neighbor is considered a hero for working, sending his children to school, paying his rent regularly, and just living like other citizens do. It's another neighbor, the one who knows how to perfectly exploit everything the social welfare system has to offer and who knows all of the legal shortcuts for avoiding responsibility who is considered a hero. Yes, even here the problems can be blamed on a different mentality. Romani people do not know how to plan, they live from one day to the next, but unfortunately, there are more and more such people among the majority population as well. The proof of this is the geometrically rising number of personal bankruptcies and repossessions. So this basically is not a Romani problem, but the problem of everyone living in socially excluded localities. What problem is really the main Romani problem?

The issue you are asking me about is truly complicated. With every answer, more and more questions occur to me. However, I can promise you that if I am elected, the issue of socially excluded localities will be one of my priorities."

František Kostlán, Gwendolyn Albert, Zdeněk Ryšavý, František Kostlán, Zdeněk Ryšavý, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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