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Czech Republic: From anti-Romani demos to lack of social housing law, social inclusion is slow

Prague, 24.2.2015 18:48, (ROMEA)
Martin Šimáček, former director of the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion. (PHOTO: Lukáš Houdek)
Martin Šimáček, former director of the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion. (PHOTO: Lukáš Houdek)

Is the fight against social exclusion succeeding in the Czech Republic? Do the most impoverished ghetto occupants have a chance at a normal life, at moving away from hopelessness and toward decent employment, education, and a life free of fear?

Yesterday the Czech Government approved its report on the fulfillment of its Strategy to Combat Social Exclusion 2011-2015. The director of the Agency for Social Inclusion, which worked on the Strategy, did not hide the fact that we cannot be satisfied with the fulfillment of its tasks.  

"I am disappointed, it's not a success," Agency director Martin Šimáček tells news server "This is not just about the fact that we only managed to fulfill roughly half of the tasks, but primarily that we have not broken down the barrier of various ministries not coordinating their procedures. In some essential areas we have made almost no progress at all."  

New Strategy must primarily concern education and housing

According to Šimáček, almost nothing has succeeded in the area of housing. "Some progress was made when the current Government took office, they showed greater interest in this topic and made an effort to do something about it systematically. However, before then we were practically at zero," he explains, "and the situation in the schools is similar."

While several days ago a key amendment to the Schools Act was successfully approved that could lead to schools becoming fair and non-discriminatory, it must be followed by other steps in order to work - primarily, a new financing plan for the schools. "The existing strategy must result in a new program for 2016-2020, which will focus on what has not yet succeeded. We should have it ready by mid-year for discussion and it should be approved by the end of the year," the director says.

Why two strategies?

There has been much ambiguity and discussion in the media and among experts and Romani activists prompted by the fact that there are two Government strategies now 

running which focus on Roma to a greater or lesser extent. Yesterday the Government also approved its Romani Integration Strategy.

"To explain why we have two Strategies we have to go back to 2009, to the anti-Romani demonstrations at the Janov housing estate in Litvínov," Šimáček recalls. "At that time the Interior Ministry discovered that we do not have a coordinated approach to prevent such situations and the Government subsequently commissioned the development of strategies by the Human Rights Ministry and the Interior Ministry. The Agency for Social Inclusion, within the framework of those tasks, focused on excluded areas, and nationality did not represent a determining factor to us. We only work with ethnicity as one of the many factors of discrimination."

The different approach of each Strategy still operates today. The Romani Integration Strategy concerns the Romani minority as a whole, while the Strategy to Combat Social Exclusion concerns roughly 1/3 of the Romani people living in the Czech Republic.

"To simplify it, I say that the Romani Integration Strategy is about Romani people in the Czech Republic enjoying equality and living well," Šimáček says. "The other strategy is about society helping people from excluded localities irrespective of nationality. Another way to think of it is that the 'integration' strategy is closer to the agenda of the Human Rights Ministry and the 'social' one is closer to the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry."  

Šimáček does not believe the existence of two strategies is the result of a clash between two diferent approachs, and "ethnic" and a "social" one. "The requirement of a modern democracy, which I hope our country is or is going to be, is that it not address its citizens' nationalities, but that it facilitate equality, equal access to the social achievements of contemporary society," he explains.  

"My colleagues have addressed the position of national minorities in that other document, and I think that's good," says the director of the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion."It is, however, a different task."

Michal Komárek, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Agentura pro sociální začleňování, Ghetto, sociální vyloučení, sociální začleňování


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