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Czech regional governor candidate: Integration only succeeds based on partnership

Karlovy Vary / Prague, 20.9.2012 23:04, (ROMEA)

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 Karlovy Vary region, we sent questionnaires to the following politicians:

Jaroslav Borka – KSČM (Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia)

Josef Hora – Hnutí nezávislých pro harmonický rozvoj měst a obcí (Independents' Movement for the Harmonious Development of Towns and Villages)

Jan Horník – TOP 09 a Starostové pro Karlovarský kraj (TOP 09 and Mayors for Karlovy Vary Region)

Josef Novotný - ČSSD (Czech Social Democratic Party)

Marek Poledníček – Koalice pro Karlovarský kraj - KKvK (Coalition for Karlovy Vary Region)

Petr Šindelář – ODS (Civic Democratic Party)

Only Jan Horník and Josef Novotný responded to our questions by the deadline. After the deadline we also received response from Marek Poledníček and Petr Šindelář. Below are the responses of attorney Petr Šindelář, chair of the ODS Regional Association Karlovy Vary and the party's candidate for Governor of the Karlovy Vary 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?

I think you are right to a certain extent. The mutual communication between the majority society and the Romani community is often ineffective. Unfortunately, for a rather long time we have experienced factionalism among those representing the Romani community and the fact that it is not sufficiently represented. Trustworthy spokespeople who are generally accepted by their own people are often lacking in Romani communities. From the perspective of the people who are doing their best to resolve specific problems with our coexistence, Romani society seems to be significantly inequitable, lacking in unity, and disrupted by internal disputes.

It is rather difficult to find a partner in the Romani community who wields sufficient authority in it. Nevertheless, I am of the opinion that the participation of local Romani representatives is necessary to resolve questions of integration. Should ODS win the regional elections, we are planning to call on Romani initiatives to express their opinions of the solutions we will implement.

If YES - what would this inclusion look like in practice?

Social inclusion can only succeed when it is established on the basis of partnerships between municipalities, nonprofit organizations, representatives of the Romani community and the state administration. Because there is a need not only to resolve concrete problems in the areas of education, employment and housing, but also in the field of adherence to law and order, the members of this partnership must be a team of people who make decisions in these areas and have enough power to change things. Everyone must share the aim of creating conditions for a satisfactory co-existence.

a) Would you seek to have Romani people listened to during joint meetings?

Definitely, yes.

b) Would you ever have an outstanding Romani personality as an adviser?

I would prefer a board of several Romani advisers from different levels of society, from various localities, and from various families. Familial structure plays a greater role in Romani society than the civic principle does.

If NO – what would your integration approach look like?

It would be a balanced approach, based on the one hand on the provision of aid, and on the other hand on the prevention of negative social phenomena. Aid is appropriate, for example, in addressing unemployment, housing, or social work with at-risk families. However, it's not enough just to provide aid. Public powers must also thoroughly demand the fulfillment of responsibilities and adherence to the law. In socially excluded localities it is also necessary to "lean on the oars" of crime prevention more, as well as on the distribution and use of psychotropic substances, the prevention of loan-sharking - on the negative aspects of life in those areas.

a) Would you proceed through repressive proposals, such as conditioning the disbursal of welfare on the fulfillment of certain conditions, or banning residency on municipal territory for those who repeatedly commit misdemeanors? What concrete measures would you advocate?

I would not rule out any means for requiring people to meet their obligations and enforcing the law as long as those means conform to the Constitution. Under no circumstances does that mean I prefer an approach based on force. Without support for employment and social work with those who need it, measures based on force will have little effect.

b) Would you proceed through motivational measures, such as paying long-term unemployed persons to work for NGOs, towns and villages? What concrete measures would you advocate?

I consider the community service work you mention to be one very good tool for addressing social problems. We would definitely advocate for modifying the system so as to increase its effectiveness. Concretely, I would propose introducing the option of increasing the motivation of good community service workers through increasing their financial reward, which the current system lacks. I would see to it that the Regional Authority takes advantage of the opportunity to initiate legislation and propose an amendment to the law in this area.

c) Would you combine these approaches? How, specifically?

As I wrote in my previous answer, ODS prefers a balanced approach. Every situation is different and every person is different, no problem is completely identical to any other. The specific choice of approaches always depends on the circumstances being addressed. When making decisions, it is necessary to listen to the voice of social work experts as well as to the politicians.

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?

We want to create conditions in the region such that citizens can find work and make enough money to live in dignified conditions. However, at the same time, I must also say that we will want citizens to do their maximum best to take care of themselves. The proposed system of community service I mentioned above is supposed to serve that end eventually. Another option for reducing unemployment is that of social enterprises, which our region is still making too little use of. Those involve the establishment and operation of business whose start-up and take-off are subsidized, businesses that will later be capable of succeeding in a competitive environment and creating jobs. b) By reducing the unemployment and social welfare benefits these people receive so they start seeking work?

I do not believe that either raising or reducing someone's support will motivate them. The purpose of support is to aid the person supported in getting out of an onerous social situation. Support should be just high enough to make it possible for them to satisfy their basic needs for living and should not be abused for other purposes. It should also last only as long as is absolutely necessary so the supported person does not become dependent on state welfare.

c) Some other way? How, specifically?

This question cannot be solved at regional level. The concrete parameters for social welfare fall completely under the jurisdiction of central policy and a Regional Authority cannot influence them in practice.

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?

That is a blanket solution which is not usually effective and which often leads to a waste of public financing. Social housing, i.e., housing for socially needy persons which is financially subsidized, makes sense only when there is a guarantee that the persons renting such apartments will take proper care of them. They must also adhere to the rules of coexistence in the building and pay their rents on time, properly. You certainly know there are programs for supported or transparent housing, where families in excluded localities who are presumed capable of adhering to the rules are worked with on this issue through nonprofit organizations. Social housing only makes sense under those conditions.

b) By reducing the state housing benefit so these people start looking for their own housing?

I do not believe that reducing the housing benefit will force anyone to seek his own housing. That's not very logical. Someone either needs the housing benefit or can get along well enough without it and finds housing at a market price. The housing benefit is a tool of state social policy. The state establishes how high it is and the rules for its disbursal. As far as I know, in Parliament they have approved a change to the rules, because the previous parameters for the housing benefit corresponded to the conditions of the 1990s. The incorrectly set benefits are leading to the unjustified enrichment of landlords who often accommodate housing benefit recipients under unbelievable financial terms and in unbelievable hygienic conditions. Those landlords are parasites on the state's social welfare system.

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

Education is naturally very important. We are counting on developing and supporting social prevention programs focused in particular on working with families and youth. We want to motivate families to lead their children toward education. Personally, I am convinced that increased educational achievement is one path out of the vicious circle of social exclusion.

a) If yes - how would you like to contribute to that increase specifically?

Regional programs should focus on measures in the schools and in social care. I consider it very necessary to expand the preschool institutions for children from excluded localities. It is also important to support an increased number of preparatory classes and a much more widespread deployment of teaching assistants in schools near localities at risk of social exclusion. These measures need to also be augmented by social work with families in the field, by engaging field social workers who will aid Romani families and children in excluded localities in fulfilling their schooling obligations.

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?

Interpersonal communication is the basic tool of understanding. There are many ways to create an opportunity for people to meet, from various athletic and cultural events to public discussions of hot topics. Our aim is a satisfactory life for the citizens of the Karlovy Vary Region. Naturally, part of that involves the unproblematic coexistence of the majority population with minorities. There is a need to eliminate long-held prejudices, which is of course a very complicated, long-term process for which we must find good will on both sides. In my opinion, it will be necessary to combine various approaches leading to people meeting one another and convincing one another of that good will.

b) Through increased outreach and social work activities among poor people, primarily Romani ones? What would that look like in practice?

Outreach activities, social work with families in the field, working with children in the schools - this is all very important and necessary. I believe this is the sovereign territory of organizations such as People in Need (Člověk v tísni), and ODS will definitely support their activities.

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