Czech politician alleges he has resolved the issue of "inadaptable Gypsies", Faktus says the facts show otherwise
He's a mayor, a Senator, and now he has been elected Regional Governor. Jiří Čunek really knows politics.
His repressive approach toward Romani residents of the town of Vsetín earned him a ministerial post once before. Has he actually "resolved" the issue of people who fall behind on their rent, or has he just made it harder to see?
The Faktus website, which seeks to promote even-handed discussions of current events, has responded to Čunek's most recent remarks on the issue, as reported in an interview for the Czech daily Mf DNES, by writing its own open letter to him. News server Romea.cz presents it here in full translation.
Fact-checkers' Open Letter to Governor Čunek
We are writing you this open letter because we noticed a recent interview in Mf DNES where you said the following: "I resolved the issue of inadaptable Gypsies in Vsetín, that was how I became famous, became the chair of the KDU-ČSL [Christian Democrats] party, and then automatically entered into negotiations about the Government...". Those are some bold allegations to make considering the following facts - which we would like to remind you of, since we are a fact-checking project.
In the autumn of 2006, the town of Vsetín, led by you as mayor, decided to condemn an apartment building in the town center on Smetanova Street and to evict its tenants, who were Romani. Container housing was erected on the territory of the former dump for 230 of those people and became a locality called Poschlá.
Seven of the evicted families were not moved into the containers but were given substitute rental housing from the town's own apartment stock, while six of the evicted families were forcibly displaced beyond the borders of the Zlín Region. The approach you took to the eviction has been repeatedly criticized by NGOs and by the Office of the Public Defender of Rights (the ombudsman).
"Our investigation into the case of evicting Romani residents from the apartment building on Smetanova Street in Vsetín concluded with the finding that the Municipal Authority of Vsetín committed maladministration," says the ombudsman's Final Statement on the issue from June 2007, which analyzed the situation in detail. According to then-ombudsman Otakar Motejl and his colleagues, the entire situation could have been avoided if only the town's approved "Concept for Field Social Work" would have been implemented.
That concept states that eviction of rent defaulters does not resolve the problem but just transfers it elsewhere. Instead of following its own concept, the town evicted all of the tenants in the building on Smetanova Street - even those who did not owe any back rent.
The situation of the six families who were then forcibly moved into single-family homes in the vicinity of Jeseník, Prostějov and Uherské Hradiště was especially dismal. None of these people, who were moved into an entirely different region, owed any back rent for their tenancy on Smetanova Street, although three of the families were paying off a debt related to other previous housing arrangements.
Without even being allowed to see the houses into which they were being moved, these people signed contracts with the town of Vsetín to borrow money at no interest in order to buy the properties. Many of the single-family dwellings were in bad condition (quite a paradox, since the poor condition of the housing they had just been forced to leave was the official reason for that eviction) so at first they refused to sign the purchase agreements they were presented with.
Ultimately, however, all of the families had no choice but to sign and buy the properties. Now let's fast-forward to the present.
Poschlá now a socially excluded locality
"The town of Vsetín was identified as having a socially excluded area by the Analysis of Socially Excluded Localities in the Czech Republic, on the basis of which the town was authorized to apply to join the Coordinated Approach to Socially Excluded Localities in order to collaborate with the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion and was approved. According to the current report of the Agency for Social Inclusion, between 200 to 300 socially vulnerable persons are living in two localities there in particular, Jiráskova Street and Poschlá," sociologist Karel Čada, who regularly contributes to the mapping of socially excluded localities in the Czech Republic, told Faktus.
For both localities, the town of Vsetín has drawn on subsidies from the State Fund for Housing Development worth CZK 39 million [EUR 1.4 million] to build rental units for persons with limited incomes, i.e., a form of social housing. The memorandum of cooperation with the Agency was signed by you as Mayor of Vsetín in June 2016.
At the beginning of September this year, the Deputy Director of the Agency, Radka Soukupová, had to answer questions from the media about statements you made after signing the memorandum that violated its conditions. On that occasion she also said: "The standpoint of the Agency on the 2006 eviction of Romani people from Vsetín is unequivocal: It was not a good move, neither with respect to the community nor with respect to the people themselves. It was also not a reasonable way to use public money."
In the year 2006, the Czech Republic's map of social exclusion included the locality on Smetanova Street in Vsetín. In 2016, the socially excluded locality on that map for Vsetín is now Poschlá.
Evicted families have returned to Vsetín
The evicted families' acquisitions of real estate meant that collections agents pursuing payment of their debts targeted those assts, and three of the properties were immediately subjected to seizure. "Currently seizure for the purpose of sale has been ordered for all of the real estate, and in almost all of the cases, the basis for the seizure is debts owed to the town, i.e., collections procedures ordered by the Vsetín council. That this was the final outcome of the town providing loans to the Romani families so they could buy the single-family homes that have now been seized has absolutely confirmed how contradictory Vsetín's procedure was," says an analysis of the evicted families' situations commissioned by the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion in 2010.
As a result, the families again found themselves homeless, and most of them responded as might be anticipated - they returned to the Vsetín area, where they at least had some kind of backup and contacts. "We have documented that most of the Romani residents of Vsetín who were affected by the eviction ultimately returned there," Deputy Director Soukupová confirmed to the media.
The mayors of the municipalities into which the Romani families were first forcibly relocated also confirm that today. "The Tulej family hasn't lived here since 2011," Milan Kiebel, the Mayor of Čechy pod Košířem, told us by telephone.
The registrar at the municipal authority in Stará Červená Voda (Jeseník district) also said the evicted Romani family from Vsetín was no longer there. Marta Doubravová of the Vsetín branch of the Diakonie charity confirms that she knows approximately four of the previously displaced families are now back living in the town.
Litigation for CZK 5 million (EUR 200 000) ongoing
Four of the six displaced families, moreover, have filed a lawsuit against the town of Vsetín for violating their human rights. They are seeking hundreds of thousands of Czech crowns in compensation each, altogether more than CZK 5 million (EUR 200 000).
"The High Court ruled that the actual aim of the eviction was not to arrange for replacement housing for the Romani families, but to get rid of the problem, to the detriment of other municipalities. A spokesperson for the High Court in Olomouc previously said the Regional Court failed to undertake any review of the evidence regarding the gravity of the harms caused and the circumstances under which the family lives and privacy of these 52 plaintiffs were not respected and their rights to preservation of their human dignity and their freedom to choose their places of residence and way of life were violated. At the time of their eviction, 29 of the 52 plaintiffs were minors," the Deník.cz daily reported in June of this year.
The bottom line is that there are many unresolved problems there now. Claims to the contrary are not supported by the facts.
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