Czech Republic: Romani town councilor says housing, unemployment worry people the most
"I am mainly concerned with improving relations between the majority society and Romani people, with helping people who want to work and are unable to, and with improving housing policy," says David Ištok. After the recently repeated elections he is now a member of the Chomutov town council after having been active in several nonprofit organizations and working as a crime prevention assistant to the Chomutov Municipal Police.
"It's absurd for people to actively seek work, to come up against the fact that no one wants to employ them, and then to see signs reading 'Gypsies get to work' being carried at demonstrations," Ištok said. He also recently performed one of the main roles in the award-winning film "The Way Out" (Cesta ven) by Petr Václav, about the environment in a ghetto in Ostrava. News server Romea.cz interviewed him after his recent victory:
Q: Is the situation in Chomutov comparable to the situation in Ostrava?
A: The difference is that the socially excluded localities in Ostrava are more concentrated on the outskirts of town. In Chomutov, they are more dispersed. They don't form a larger grouping, but are in separate places, such as individual apartment buildings on a housing estate. The problems are, however, the same in both places - housing policy, the social situation, unemployment.
Q: What can you as a town councilor realistically change and influence?
A: I'm a newcomer to the council. Thanks to my work as a crime prevention assistant for the Municipal Police, however, I have been working directly with people in the field and I know what kinds of problems they are facing. This is not just about Romani people, but also, for example, many single mothers, anyone who can't find housing or jobs... they know me and they are more accepting of me. I can inform the town council about what they are facing and what they need, I can point out concrete matters to them and do my best to find a way to resolve them.
Q: How, specifically, can housing and unemployment be addressed?
"labeling", and no one wants to employ them anywhere else because they are Romani. I can draw attention to these specific cases, take the initiative, try to come up with projects to help them get a foothold. It's also complicated with housing - the town has a housing authority that it has turned into a joint-stock company, and the rents it charges are high. That is the legacy of former Mayor Řápková, and my colleagues and I are doing our best to remedy that in the right direction. These are, however, all small steps.
Q: Do you believe that through these small steps "from below" you can achieve a more fundamental change, or that such change can only be achieved at the level of central government politics?
A: More complex areas like the schools or social housing policy naturally demand greater systemic changes. These smaller steps at municipal level are, however, also important, they can help effect change in a specific locality. The fact that a Romani man is elected to the town council is for us Roma a small step forward as well. My colleagues and I are striving to ban gambling across the board in Chomutov, for example. There is a large number of gaming rooms on the housing estates here and almost nothing is being done for children and youth. We definitely want to change that.
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