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Czech Human Rights Minister: Success will be equal representation of minorities in inclusive education

Prague, 10.6.2014 23:29, (ROMEA)
Czech Minister for Human Rights, Equal Opportuntities and Legislation Jiří Dienstbier (PHOTO: Petr Vilgus, Wikimedia)
Czech Minister for Human Rights, Equal Opportuntities and Legislation Jiří Dienstbier (PHOTO: Petr Vilgus, Wikimedia)

Czech Human Rights Minister Jiří Dienstbier (Czech Social Democrats - ČSSD) says the will of local politicians and the securing of popular support are the basic prerequisites for a good starting point for including minorities into mainstream society. He made the remarks in an interview with the Czech daily Lidové noviny which the ČSSD party has published on its website; news server brings you that interview in full translation.  

Q:  Mayors from northern Bohemia have recently spoken up about their problems with Romani people. Municipalities that do manage to integrate large Romani minorities, and to integrate them well, do exist, such as the town of Kadaň. Why don't these examples of good practice spread?

A:  You can't take up any integration model without adjustments, it's always necessary to adapt it to the circumstances, to make it fit. In Kadaň what is special is that the excluded locality is completely outside the town. You work differently with a community like that than you do with a housing estate in the center of town. In any event, all these models of good practice can do is help. We have visited several places where they are succeeding in doing something about social exclusion. We've also visited places where they claim it's impossible. I see the basic difference as being that we saw political will in Kadaň, while in the Šluknov district  - for example, in Duchcov - there isn't any. The will to solve any problem is essential. Efforts by municipal leaders, along with securing popular support for them, are the basic prerequisites for a good resolution.      

Q:  Have you asked those municipal leaders whether, for example, they have attempted to offer their successful models to others?

A:  Yes. Unfortunately, the situation is not yet ripe for that. On the one hand we hear local complaints about "you all from Prague", but there also isn't much more willingness to listen even when local mayors themselves present their plans. We've even heard several of the active ones say:  "We received an award, but we can't brag about it, everyone is angry at us for it." It's clear to see that we are still in the beginning phase of solving the problems of social exclusion in this country, and that we don't have very much experience with it, not even historically. Sooner or later, however, this will come up for the regions, they will have to find a solution, and then the examples and experiences of others can help. 

Q:  There are many examples of integration. In Hungary, for example, there is a system of "loving segregation" where minorities can open their own schools and the state just monitors the level of education delivered. Do you think our integration model is the best?

A:  I don't see that approach as being very reasonable. In the Czech Republic the Roma are not a territorial minority, so independent schools, etc., are not the solution. On the contrary, I consider that success will be when we have equal representation of all minorities in the schools and an inclusive model of education. Segregated schools are a bad example.  

Q:  Sometimes we hear that Romani parents don't want to let their children go to school...

A:  We cannot prove that this is true for most of them. Where Roma are concerned there are many stereotypes that predominate, based on experiences with parents who really have no interest in their children. I just heard about a project in Ostrava where social workers prepared Romani children to enter primary school, part of which involved an aptitude assessment. The staffers knew that when the children went to register for primary school they were ready. However, their efforts to enroll met with a wide range of responses. Some schools enrolled the children without any problems, but others were worse. At one school the director dug his heels in and would not enroll the child no matter what the cost, even though by law he must enroll those who come to him. That's the reality. Let's not talk just about the argument that most Romani people allegedly don't want to send their children to school.  

Q: The need for integration keeps being waved around here, but it usually happens that these children stop attending preschool or primary school. They make it to high school, for example, but they drop out after one year. The teachers can't do anything about it. 

A:  In those cases the preschool or primary school alone is not enough. It is necessary to be connected to social work. If children stop attending school, the staffers should be in contact with the parents and find out why. Of course schools cannot do that on their own. There is a need for a social work system that the municipalities can offer, and not just to Romani people. What's key is that this about the right of the child to education, not the rights of the parents. It's related to motivation when seeking employment or re-qualification according to whether I will even have chance to get a job afterward, etc. Naturally this does not only concern Roma. How many people in some regions here find no jobs after graduation and fall into lethargy and powerlessness?

Q:  Romani people are just one of the minorities in this country. We have a large minority of Slovaks, of Ukrainians, of Vietnamese people. Are they more integrated than the Roma?

A:  It depends. The difference is rather that other minorities are not negatively perceived in general and there are not such big social tensions connected to them. They live according to their own cultural models, but most of them are not perceived as negatively as the Roma are.

Q:  For example, we have not had much of a big problem, as a society, with the Vietnamese.

A:  There have been some problems with them - for example, smuggling and other problems with the law. However, from the standpoint of the feelings of the majority society, coexistence with the Vietnamese is easier than coexistence with the Roma. An essential role is played by the fact that only a small part of the Romani population who were indigenous here during the First Republic - and who were very well integrated - survived the war. The Romani people in our country today came, for the most part, through a targeted migration from Slovakia, but many of them have only been living here for a minimum of two or three generations. Some have led their children to achieve college educations, some haven't.     

Q:  Why, though don't we notice as many problems with Vietnamese people, for example, on the labor market? It could seem to the average person that the vast majority of Vietnamese in our country work.

A:  An essential factor is that most of those who come here from Vietnam are people who already have good situations. In most cases they are neither poor nor uneducated. On the contrary - generally it's the more-educated young people who come here, who pick up know-how from the local community that already exists here, and that's why in general they don't have such a problem asserting themselves on the labor market. Some of the Romani people we are talking about, that 80 000 who are worse off - they are finding themselves on the edge of poverty, and we will either deal with  that, which in the long run will cost us less money, or we won't. Mainly, we must not forget that regardless of ethnicity, senior citizens and single mothers are also living on the edge of poverty here today. We should also be prepared to resolve their situations.   

Lidové noviny, web ČSSD, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Inkluzivní vzdělávání, integration, Jiří Dienstbier, Roma


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