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Czech Republic: Šluknov district politicians want social inclusion agency abolished and money given to them

Prague, 26.1.2012 21:56, (ROMEA)

Politicians in the Šluknov foothills want the Czech Government to abolish its Agency for Social Inclusion in Romani Localities. Speaking at a meeting with MPs today, representatives of the three largest towns in the region said the Agency has done nothing to help them since the start of ethnic friction in their area even though it is presenting itself as having taken action. The local politicians claim instead that the Agency's pro-Roma proposals merely irritate majority-society locals.

The Agency's budget is roughly CZK 25 million annually, and the local politicians would rather see that money put to different use. None of the MPs with whom they met have commented on this criticism of the Agency yet. Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková and Agency director Martin Šimáček have rejected the politicians' call to abolish the Agency.

Criticism has been leveled against the Agency by Mayor of Varnsdorf Martin Louka (HNHRM), Vice-Mayor of Rumburk Darek Šváb (ČSSD) and Mayor of Šluknov Eva Džumanová (independent), who represent the three largest towns in the area. They met with four MPs today led by the chair of the Security Committee in the lower house, Czech MP Radek John (VV).

"If you ask me what they have done to help I don't know of anything they have done. They present themselves to the media as helping, but the reality is different," Džumanová said. The materials the Agency has published which are intended to address the situation will, in her view, be perceived by the public as discriminatory and as promoting Romani people. She believes the same can be said of the Strategy for the Fight against Social Exclusion which the Czech Government adopted last September just before the ethnic unrest in Šluknov district broke out. The Strategy includes roughly 100 specific measures, some of which Džumanová believes are absurd. "I can just see the municipal police buying child seats to take Romani children to school," she said.

Almost all of the other mayors and local activists share her views on the subject. "The Agency is good for nothing. Their person, Mr Šimáček, came to a public discussion and was terribly surprised to learn that people here are in a bad mood because of their co-existence with the Roma. Then this kind of fraud gets out there - the majority will be very resentful of it," Varnsdorf activist Petr Heinrich said of the Agency's Strategy. In mid-January, Heinrich organized a demonstration in support of a local family whom police say were attacked by a group of Romani people on New Year's Day.

There are other criticisms of the Agency. Mayor Louka is bothered by the Agency's approach, saying its staffers behave as if they were the only people who understand the situation. Vice-Mayor Šváb doesn't like the Agency's budget and believes the money could be used in a more beneficial way.

"Take that money away from the Agency. We are almost stripped bare here due to a lack of financing - the Agency doesn't publish anything and the money still goes there," he declared. According to available data, the Agency manages an annual budget of roughly CZK 25 million, out of which it pays about 30 staff.

Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková and Agency director Martin Šimáček have rejected the Šluknov mayors' call to abolish the Agency. "What we offered the mayors was not a fistful of money, nor was it fast, populist solutions, but a program which has done very well when tested in other towns, including Litvínov, where the situation two years ago was even more exacerbated [than the one in Šluknov district]. The implementation of such a program is demanding and it requires long-term effort, but it really could calm the situation in these towns. I am sorry the mayors have let the Agency do its work for so many long months before surprising us with such a radical declaration," Šimůnková said.

ČTK, Gwendolyn Albert, Zdeněk Ryšavý, ryz, Czech Press Agency, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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