Czech Republic: Romani Council of Ostrava gets politicians' blessing
Yesterday in Ostrava representatives of the local Romani Council and its team of Romani experts met with politicians. Members of the Romani Council as well as political representatives view the creation of the Council as a milestone in collaboration between the Romani community and the city when it comes to solving their common problems.
"We consider this a key platform through which Romani people can directly contribute, together with other residents of Ostrava, to problem-solving in the city," Czech Deputy Human Rights Minister Kateřina Valachová, who participated in the meeting, told the Czech News Agency. The Romani Council of Ostrava was elected this past February by 132 Romani voters and is led by a Romani entrepreneur who until recently was a residential hotel operator, Vladimír Leško; news server Romea.cz previously reported on discussions of whether the Council and its chair are representative of the Romani community.
Deputy Mayor Zbyněk Pražák (Christian Democrats - KDU-ČSL), who has supported the creation of the Council from the beginning, said the following to the Czech News Agency after yesterday's meeting: "We told each other that the Romani Council will formulate the problems and that we will solve them on an ongoing basis at sessions of the City Council and eventually at sessions of other competent bodies or institutions." He said the first topic of common discussion between the City and the Romani Council will be Romani children's attendance of preschool.
Expert: Change begins with people like Leško
The meeting was also attended by Romani Council expert Magdaléna Karvayová, a Romani activist and graduate of Anglo-American University in Prague who has long focused on the topic of Romani children's education. "The experts have several tasks ahead of them - they will negotiate with City Hall about these issues and also serve as advisors to members of the Romani Council and the settlement committees we are putting together," she explained to news server Romea.cz.
"I consider the settlement committees to be of fundamental importance - a three-member committee will represent each locality and present its proposals through the Romani Council to the City," she said. "At the committee meetings with local citizens we plan to explain why it is important to get engaged in local politics and how to do it effectively."
Karvayová and her colleague Jolana Šmarhovyčová are focusing on the area of education, and one of the basic issues they have submitted to their colleagues from City Hall is arranging for the preschool education of Romani children and preventing their segregation in the primary schools. "Clearly these are big, long-term aims, but they are not unrealistic. The results in the form of total desegregation will certainly not be seen until five or 10 years from now, but naturally we are working on eliminating segregation now and we have good partial results," Karvayová said.
The Council has established four areas of expertise so far; in addition to education, the other areas are housing, jobs and public safety, which is combined with culture and sports. Karvayová said she sees no problem with Leško chairing the Romani Council.
"I participated in the vote and I know that he did not manipulate it in any way, he distributed thousands of fliers around Ostrava and did his best to reach the maximum possible number of people. The fact that only a certain number of people participated is another matter, he can't influence that," she said.
"He is no longer the owner of any residential hotels," the activist said. "The main thing is that without the people who can launch things, like Leško, for example, we will make no progress. Of course, this doesn't mean we don't want to activate people at the grassroots or that we don't want communication to come from them - that's why we are setting up settlement committees."
Leško sees the Romani Council as a breakthrough primarily because there will no longer be action taken "about Roma without them". "It's off to a good start," he told news server Romea.cz after the City Hall meeting.
"The politicians consider us their partners, but it's clear that they will judge us by our results," he said. "I think we will achieve better, faster results than all the nonprofits. We are capable, as Romani people, of showing that we know how to accomplish things, we have what it takes."
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