Czech regional candidate: Only constant dialogue makes sense
This article continues our series of question and answer sessions with leading candidates from various political parties and groups running in the upcoming elections for 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.
In the Hradec Králové region we sent questions to these politicians:
Pavel Bělobrádek - Koalice pro Královéhradecký kraj (Coalition for Hradec Králové region)
Rudolf Cogan - TOP 09 a Starostové (TOP 09 and Mayors)
Vladimír Dryml - SPOZ (Strana práv občanů ZEMANOVCI - the Citizen's Rights Party for Zeman)
Lubomír Franc - ČSSD (Czech Social Democratic Party)
Miloslav Plass - ODS (Civic Democrats)
Otakar Ruml - KSČM (Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia)
Four candidates responded to our questions by the deadline: Pavel Bělobrádek, Lubomír Franc, Miloslav Plass and Otakar Ruml. The following are the response from Miloslav Plass, currently a regional councilor for the Hradec Králové region:
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 YES - what would this inclusion look like in practice?
The issue of inclusion has been described and discussed and concepts and strategic materials have been created for it at several levels, but what is missing here is what you are talking about, a dialogue between those involved. No government agency can replace the natural authority that exists in a particular place and no strategy will work in exactly the same way in every town or village. In my opinion, what is necessary is work with specific people at an individual level, not a generalized approach to the community as a whole. Everyone has their own ideas about their own life. We can support other people's activities, but unless they are willing to make the effort to change something themselves, there is no point.
a) Would you seek to have Romani people listened to during joint meetings?
Politicians at all levels are obliged to listen to the citizens and take their needs on board. Romani people are full-fledged citizens of our country. However, this can't just result in a few meetings where people listen to one another, there is a need to maintain constant dialogue, otherwise it doesn't make sense.
b) Would you ever have an outstanding Romani personality as an adviser?
I wouldn't be against it. All advisers, not just advisers in the field of national minorities, must first demonstrate that they understand the area in which they want to give advice well and that they are a recognized authority.
c) Would you involve more Romani personalities in the design and implementation of integration measures?
No integration efforts can work without their involvement.
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?
a) Though an effort to create jobs? What would such an effort look like in practice?
b) By reducing the unemployment and social welfare benefits these people receive so they start seeking work?
c) Some other way? How, specifically?
It is necessary to combine all the instruments available to us for the support of employment. It is also unequivocally necessary to create, together with all of the institutions on the territory of the region, a good environment for business development. In and of itself, that will spark demand for a workforce. It is also necessary to provide social welfare and unemployment benefits only to those people for whom it can be proven that all the other tools for preserving their economic self-sufficiency have failed them, including community service work. Unemployment benefits should motivate people in accordance with the credo "It pays to work." Education and increasing qualifications will always be the starting point of any effort to increase the chances of finding work.
3. How would you approach resolving the housing of the very poorest people, including Romani people, living in socially excluded localities?
a) Advocating for social housing, to be financed from the regional budget?
b) By reducing the state housing benefit so these people start looking for their own housing?
c) Some other way? How, specifically?
Promoting social housing in collaboration with towns and villages is one option, but such housing does not have to be financed from the regional budget. There is no doubt that such housing should be provided to those who meet the conditions, and those conditions should include active job seeking and the ability to contribute to the costs of such housing. State housing contributions are provided to disadvantaged residents on the basis of medical conditions, age, etc.
4. Would you like to increase educational achievement among the poorest people, including Romani people living in socially excluded localities?
a) If YES - how would you like to contribute to that increase specifically?
b) If NO – why do you consider the current state of affairs in education to be so good as to not need any changing?
Here it's the other way around - residents at risk of social exclusion must want to achieve higher education. Society creates all of the conditions they need. If they do not take advantage of the offer to become educated, they are harming themselves. Education is the path to improving their current state. Every politician wants the education of the citizenry to reach the highest possible level.
5. How would you like to achieve a better, calmer coexistence between majority-society people and minorities, primarily the Romani minority?
a) Would you like majority and minority people to start communicating with one another more often? If YES - how specifically would you like to achieve this?
b) Through increased outreach and social work activities among poor people, primarily Romani ones? What would that look like in practice?
c) By forcing these people to obey the rules "through force"? How, specifically?
d) A combination of these approaches, or something else? How, specifically?
Interpersonal communication is important, informing people of the needs of these at-risk groups, cooperation with authorities in the community, taking an individualized approach, increasing minorities' social intelligence, and eliminating prejudice and xenophobia. When ghettos are created, they have an adverse impact and negative behavior models take over among those living in them.
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