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December 7, 2021

 

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Czech Pirates: We will break up the monopoly of residential hotels for the poor, we reject the insulting term "inadaptables"

5.10.2021 12:17
Ivan Bartoš (PHOTO: Petr Zewlakk Vrabec)
Ivan Bartoš (PHOTO: Petr Zewlakk Vrabec)

The Czech Pirates want to break up the monopoly held by the owners of residences that are falling apart, including the residential hotels that are providing accommodation to impoverished people, across the board throughout the country's entire territory. In the area of education, they back the idea of direct support to Romani students through scholarships.

That is not the only instrument the Pirates are in favor of, however, when it comes to supporting Romani people. "In addition to Romani-specific supports, Romani people must have access to everything that all other citizens are able to take advantage of here, i.e., the instruments for supporting children from socially disadvantaging environments," Ivan Bartoš, chair of the Czech Pirate Party and frontrunner in its coalition with the STAN (Mayors and Independents) party, told news server Romea.cz. 

The insulting term "inadaptables" is one the Pirates refuse to use. "That is a degrading label used by those who suffer from an inability to tolerate differences," the Pirate chair 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 (Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia - KSČM), Tomio Okamura ("Freedom and Direct Democracy" - SPD), Ivan Bartoš (Pirates + STAN), 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, followed by our interview with the statewide leader and chair of the KSČM, Vojtěch Filip. We also contacted the chair of the SPD and its statewide leader, Okamura, but he never answered our questions; instead, Czech MP Lucie Šafránková (SPD) responded, so we published her answers, and now we are publishing the responses we have received from the frontrunner for the Pirate-STAN coalition, the chair of the Czech Pirate Party, Ivan Bartoš.  

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

A:  Successful integration will develop above all by improving the situation in structurally-afflicted areas and improving the quality of life of the people for whom immanent impoverishment is a risk. The worst situation is in the Karlovy Vary Region and Ústecký Region, where Roma are exposed to impoverishment at a rate that is six times higher than elsewhere here.    

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

A:  Living situations that are unfavorable frequently involve apathy, resignation when a solution seems too complicated and unattainable. The elections don't play a big role for such people because they are unable to change anything about the preview of the future that people living socially excluded localities already have. During the last three decades it is actually the case that nothing much has changed in the approach to addressing poverty here. 

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

A:  We are a liberal party where democracy functions inside the party as well, and therefore we do not differentiate among our candidates or our members. When compiling the candidate lists we do not ascertain candidates' ethnicities, and the main prerequisite for selecting people for specific slots on the list is primarily their expertise, impeccability, and vision. In the Pirate Party we always hold democratic, honest, public primaries when compiling the candidate lists. Cyril Koky previously ran for the Pirates during the elections to the Senate, and he openly declares that he belongs to the Romani minority, as does Karel Karika, who is an elected representative of the Pirates in the Ústecký Region, and who was even our lead candidate in those most recent elections to the regional assemblies.   

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:  A housing law that will regulate the role of the municipalities with extended powers in establishing and implementing local housing strategies, as well as the role of the state in supporting the counseling of citizens at risk of homelessness and the provision of housing to them, is something we already dealt with during the previous session of Parliament. In outline, we have prepared the wording of such a law based on the experiences of municipalities that are already doing this with the support of EU funds. We consulted our legislation with the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry, with the Ministry for Regional Development, with municipalities, and with aid organizations. For more significant housing construction to happen here, we will have to correct the Act on Construction, but the crisis in housing that has to be overcome is not just about apartment units missing from the market and the need for new ones to be built. Municipalities must have legislation that clarifies their role in satisfying citizens' housing needs, as specified in the Act on Municipalities. According to that legislation, the state must provide funds from its budget that municipalities will be able to use to buy apartments as part of the municipally-owned housing stock, or to reconstruct such units, and then rent them to citizens on the basis of clear conditions and non-discriminatory rules. It is appropriate to guarantee private landlords smooth rent payments, social work with tenants, and compensation for any damages, thus reducing the risks that currently make them afraid to rent apartments to low-income families.

Q:  How would you like to prevent trafficking in poverty?

A:  It is essential to break up the monopoly held by the owners of residences that are falling apart, including the residential hotels that are providing accommodation to impoverished people, across the board throughout the country's entire territory. The Act on Housing would also be a solution for municipalities that are now getting rid of their impoverished residents, or who believe the best solution is to "clear them out" of municipally-owned rental housing and into the residential hotels. A new law would help them to truly resolve the dilemma of how to house their residents - it will provide the appropriate instruments and funding. Otherwise our country will never cease to resemble a maze where the impoverished keep migrating anyplace somebody offers a roof over their heads, no matter the conditions. The collection of debts here can also be considered trafficking in poverty, its methodology has been poorly set up. We believe it would be appropriate to achieve changes in collections procedures by establishing the rule that one collections agent should be assigned to one individual debtor, as well as by increasing the amount of the assets that cannot be collected from couples who are childless, from couples who are unmarried, and from single people, all of whom are now at a disadvantage compared to married couples with children. Another solution could also be well-designed housing maps with an overview of the prices really being charged that would correspond to local conditions, and housing benefits would then be paid, according to a certain coefficient, just for the amount that the map specifies. However, this should not be calculated on the basis of prices set by the traffickers in poverty.

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:  The ability for municipalities to declare areas as allegedly having an increased incidence of phenomena that are socially undesirable, where applicants for aid to those in material distress would then not be allowed to draw housing benefits based on that decision by the municipality - the housing supplement - even though their income and their proven situation has been assessed as meeting all the conditions for eligibility to such a benefit, was a violation of those citizens' right to freedom of movement and to choose where to reside. Families living in municipalities that set up such zones, like Karviná, Kladno, Most or Ústí nad Labem, could not even move house within the given town because they would have lost about half of their income if they moved into such a zone. Many such families who became unable to access housing benefits were then forced to pay their rent from the benefits that were meant for subsistence - their food - and then ask for food from food banks through nonprofits. Housing benefit-free zones have been an example of the abuse of social benefits by politicians who do not delve deeper into the functioning of the social system and who pursue a policy of introducing "at least something" that will bring them popularity. The Pirates have long pointed out the harmfulness of housing benefit-free zones and will not enforce anything similar, which is also evident from our joint program with STAN. After four years of banning housing supplements locally, it has become clear that what motivates traffickers in poverty is not whether or not these benefits exist. It is enough that the poor have no alternative and will therefore pay for their housing however possible. 

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:  Any education at secondary school that goes unfinished needs to be addressed both by strengthening the attractiveness and quality of secondary school teaching and by developing career guidance services and the availability of information not just about secondary schools' content and offerings, but also about the employment of their graduates in the labor market and their prospects. Another problem is the fact that pupils have to decide on their direction very early, already when they leave primary school at the age of 15. However, if they find out that they have not chosen their field in high school well, it often means they have to end those studies and start studying another field from the very beginning. Therefore, we consider that a new concept of school could emerge where students could gradually specialize and have more room to choose how to profile themselves. This would enable college preparatory and vocational education "under one roof" and at the same time would facilitate the transition from one field to another during study. In the first year, students would have the space to acquire the basics of either a general professional or a universal education, where they will find out what interests them and where they would like to continue during their studies. If students enjoy technology, they will choose professional training, and if, for example, they enjoy Czech language or history, then they will choose a focus in the humanities. They could choose from a broad range of elective subjects according to their interests or the prerequisites for their studies, and on that basis they would continue to develop their profile. Already abroad, in Germany, Sweden or the USA, there are inspiring practices from this specific approach. Gradual specialization could also be supported at the level of secondary vocational schools where, after covering the basics common to disciplines in professions that are related to each other, there would be an offer of optional subjects where students would have space for career guidance and would further profile themselves.

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: The difference between, for example, the Moravian-Silesian Region and the Ústecký Region is a testament to the fact that this problem is not just about a change that is structural, but is about the political steps, both at the level of the national redistribution of resources from the state to the regions, and at the level of the regions where the schools have been managed by municipalities and Regional Authorities for 20 years now. We identify with the necessity of supporting municipalities to manage the situation at primary schools with a higher proportion of pupils at risk of social exclusion - however, ideally this would be done in such a way that such schools could not be established in the first place, as a result of more appropriate regulation of school catchment areas, arranging for buses to be provided that reach the schools, etc. We do consider it important to ensure support for children from disadvantaged groups and for pupils in the phase of preparing them for pre-school in a timely manner. This should not just be about lunches and snacks being subsidized, but about aides and tutoring provided by the school as well, about involving children from families who are socially vulnerable in clubs and other hobbies. It is also important to support teachers in working with children in collectives that are diverse during instruction, to support career development guidance as a service, and to provide other positions for supporting the school (for example, social pedagogues, etc.), including financing them sustainably.    

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:  Support for Romani students is justifiable in our country for as long as the emphasis on education has not equalized among all families and for as long as the anticipations of children's success in the schools, irrespective of their origin, remains unequalized as well. If ethnically-oriented supports are simultaneously the sole supports, then that is risky. In addition to Romani-specific supports, Romani people must have access to everything that all other citizens are able to take advantage of here, i.e., to the instruments for supporting children from socially disadvantaging environments as described above. We firmly identify with meeting the principle of equal conditions for access to education, where ethnicity should not play a role, but the individual situations of individual pupils and their concrete educational needs should play a role. As far as concrete proposals for measures to support disadvantaged groups of pupils, those  have been outlined in the answer to the previous question.   

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: Benefits, in our country, are considered evil just because most citizens and most politicians are unfamiliar with the system, unfortunately. By far the largest amount of money paid by the state for social benefits goes to pensions (CZK 508 billion [EUR 20 billion] in 2020), which many people do not even consider to be benefits. Another big package is illness insurance benefits (CZK 55 billion [EUR 2.17 billion]), i.e., illness benefits, caregiver benefits, and the maternity or paternity benefits. This is followed by state social support benefits (CZK 53 billion [EUR 2.09 billion]) and care allowances (CZK 33 billion [EUR 1.3 billion]) for adults who depend on care provided by their loved ones or social services. Parental allowances from state social support are received by anybody who cares for a child under four years of age, regardless of how much they earn, and housing allowances from the same package are used by ordinary families and seniors to pay their rent if that cost exceeds one-third of their income. However, none of this is under fire; the critics just focus on aid to those in material distress - subsistence allowances, housing supplements, assistance in emergencies - which are the equivalent of less than 1 % of the cost of paying pensions. In 2020, this amount was CZK 4.79 billion [EUR 190 million], including covering mortgage payments for entrepreneurs during lockdown. The only exception is, perhaps, the housing allowance, which is kicked around by those who confuse it with housing supplements. The consequence is that senior citizens and young families prefer to try to get by on their insufficient incomes rather than apply for a contribution toward their housing. Both the administration of social security and the Labor Offices have enough instruments to use against the abuse of benefits, they do use them, and their effectiveness is reported, so the abuse of benefits is decidedly not a mass phenomenon. Eligibility for welfare is also administratively verified in the applicants' place of residence, and abuse of benefits is dealt with as a felony. 

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: "Inadaptable", as a term, is not part of my vocabulary, nor is it part of the Pirate vocabulary. That is a degrading label used by those who suffer from an inability to tolerate differences. Politicians frequently swear that they do not mean Romani people when they use this marker, but that they are speaking about all who are unwilling to accept the norms of society. Irrespective of who wants to include whom underneath this label, the generalization itself is unacceptable. Whether you tar people with the same brush because of their skin color or because of how they live, or where they live, you are still doing the same thing. This always divides people into "us" and "them", which does not aid in bolstering our coexistence with each other. It is necessary to concretely discuss problems, not to create generalized groups. In my opinion, this applies as a rule.        

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?

A:  Before the summer holidays began we formulated six basic demands of the Government for coping with the waves that are underway or for preventing new ones, and we warned that they should: 

1) Motivate as many people as possible to voluntarily get vaccinated, especially people in at-risk groups, including the elderly. We want people to be able to choose their preferred vaccine and we want to remove barriers to accessing the vaccine, for example, through our proposal for pharmacies doing vaccinations.

2) Perform fast, functional contact tracing - in cases of suspected risky variants of the virus, tracing in a matter of hours is required. The capacity of the staff involved needs to be strengthened in order to achieve this.

3) Educate pupils in safe schools - education will secure our future.

4) Keep retail stores and services open, or provide adequate compensation during temporary closures.

5) As long as the threat of another wave exists, there should be accessible, free testing everywhere in the Czech Republic. 

6) The autumn could see a deterioration, so according to developments, prepare a plan for the variants.

The end goal, logically, is of course to achieve collective immunity and return to life as it was normally lived before the pandemic. At the economic level, we must find a fair mechanism for compensating those who have been financially harmed by the across-the-board limitations imposed by the Government. We want to take advantage of the findings from throughout the epidemic, including data on the spread of the disease, on the effectiveness of the measures, on errors that were organizational and systemic, in order to modernize Czech health care as follows:   

1) What has to happen is the interconnection of the sector as a whole. Everyone should have an overview of their own health care, and doctors should have access to patients' medical records with their consent. For this data it is important to maintain security. 

2) Measures must be taken in favor of shorter waiting times for patients in waiting rooms and shortening waiting times for scheduled examinations. Applications could advise the most appropriate examination methods and places. The Institute for Clinical and Experimental Medicine says some inspections can be performed remotely through telemedicine.

3) We will motivate doctors and health professionals who are starting out by eliminating excessive administration and excessive requirements for their gaining a professional specialization.

4) By emphasizing transparency, which will reduce costs and increase efficiency, we will have more resources which to work.

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:  First and foremost, the Government has to get rid of the absurd barriers to vaccination, i.e., the complicated registration, limited freedom in choosing the date of the second dose and the type of vaccine, and the lack of opportunities to be vaccinated on the weekend. Immunization must remain voluntary. To beef up capacities, we brought forward a proposal to immunize people at pharmacies - there are as many as 3 000 of them in the Czech Republic and many would be glad to join this effort. 

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?

A: We have been constantly calling for the Government to inform us openly about the advantages and disadvantages of immunization and to debunk the disinformation that is disseminated about vaccination. As we have already said, we want to bolster capacities for immunization, bringing it closer to the citizens due to the network of pharmacies, which in the excluded localities would be an influence that would be positive for their situation too. For example, I was on the outskirts of Ústí nad Labem recently and according to people's reactions there, nobody is speaking very much about this subject.  

Rena Horvátová, Zdeněk Ryšavý, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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campaign, Education, elections 2021, Exekuce



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