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Czech Republic: The two faces of ODS - Populism vs. reality

Prague, 4.9.2013 17:55, (ROMEA)
Ivo Strejček and Lenka Kohoutová (PHOTO: ODS, collage Romea.cz)
Ivo Strejček and Lenka Kohoutová (PHOTO: ODS, collage Romea.cz)

On 23 August 2013, the press spokesperson for the Civic Democratic Party (Občanská demokratická strana - ODS) verbally promised that the party would be issuing a statement on the anti-Roma demonstrations planned for the next day across the country. The party has yet to issue an official statement on those events.

Two commentaries on the events of 24 August have been posted to the official ODS website. The commentary by Czech MEP Ivo Strejčka (ODS) is populist and full of collective blame for Romani people, while the commentary by Lenka Kohoutová is not populist at all, but realistic.

News server Romea.cz publishes in full translation below these commentaries that show us the two faces of the ODS party.

Lenka Kohoutová:  Equal redistribution of "poverty" by the left will not stop social unrest

An innovation introduced to the recent anti-Romani protests is that ordinary residents are now participating in them. In many places they have joined the skinhead youths, often distinguished by their high rates of absence during history class, as well as the career xenophobes who are banded together in groups like the DSSS. The ordinary residents come out to demonstrate because they are facing social tensions day-to-day and need to vent their growing dissatisfaction.

I have seen with my own eyes more than once that people living in areas with high unemployment and in complicated living conditions are often in very similar situations, whether they stand on the ethnic minority side of the barricades or the majority one. What they have in common is that they are furious with the authorities, with politicians, and with their own financial and life situations. Paradoxically, that anger then divides them into two irreconcilable camps, who reproach one another over the one little thing that does genuinely distinguish them from one another - skin color. 

The impulse to resolve this must come from the state. However, it is not true that the state has so far ignored this smoldering social conflict. In addition to the Czech Government Inter-ministerial Commission on Roma Community Affairs, there is also the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion, and it cannot be denied that the Agency has done good work in the direction of equal opportunities and integration, particularly in certain regions.

Nevertheless, people often complain to one another through the urban myths, circulated thousands of times, about Romani people getting medicines free of charge in pharmacies, being given apartments as if on a conveyor belt, receiving special welfare amounting to tens of thousands of crowns a month, etc. Such propositions have no basis in the legislation currently applicable in the Czech Republic, and their value is equivalent to that of the well-known tall tales about razors stuck onto the toboggans in the local water park with gum, or children being kidnapped in IKEA. Such talk is not buttressed by anything that is actually in the law.

However, what is essential to the resolution of social conflicts (and to their prevention) is not the activity of this or that agency. What is essential is a correct approach to social policy as a whole. I absolutely do not share the conviction of those on the left that the weakest will improve once the state distributes its goods to everyone equally. They will not improve. The task of the state is to create conditions such that a person, in exchange for the state's helping hand, gets out of his hard situation through his own activity. If we fall for the logic of the solution of equal redistribution of "goods", without accenting people's activity, the state will soon just be redistributing poverty. It's the same as if the captain of a boat threw a life preserver to a drowning man - even with the life preserver, if he doesn't take action, sooner or later a wave will come along to strike him down. It would be better to throw the drowning man a rope - he will have to climb it, but he will get back on board. 

Currently there is a need to definitively overcome in practice the problems caused by the former leadership of the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs under the baton of Jaromír Drábek and stabilize the Labor Offices so the necessary social investigations in the field can take place. It makes sense to support new jobs, but not by increasing the minimum wage, as the left is deluding the public, because the result of that will be to send many people to the bottom of the barrel, as it won't be worth it for firms to employ them. It is important to support people's activity, for example, by adjusting the amount of time they actually work, reducing bureaucracy, providing discounts on insurance for part-time workers or education on the job. Public service work should also be reinstated, in a modified form, as the previous arrangements were rejected by the Constitutional Court. This kind of service could be obligatory after one has been registered with the Labor Office for four months. I would create a sliding scale of support based on activity and pay up to the minimum wage for the services. If an unemployed person avoids education and public service, then he should only be entitled to the bare minimum of welfare. I am in favor of broader collaboration with municipalities and nonprofit organizations on this question, as they can facilitate the performance of public service work.

Social unrest provides fertile ground for populists of all kinds who offer quick, radical solutions. I think reasonable citizens and politicians will not let themselves be seduced by the populist wave and will seek solutions that are balanced and offer good prospects. The recipes of the left in the social arena count on a greater degree of redistribution but will definitely not ameliorate social tensions completely.  


Ivo Strejček:  Are anti-Roma demonstrations an expression of "Czech racism"?

It is understandable that all of the media are now fixated on how President Zeman is going to proceed and how the political parties will respond to his next moves. It is clear that all attention is being focused on the early elections, anticipating that the voters will "somehow" settle their scores with the politicians at the ballot box and that there will be some sort of miraculous renaissance in the lower house through the newly elected politicians, who will have fallen into our laps from who knows where, and who will therefore not be corrupt.

In the shadow of this main political news, we have received some perfunctory information about the fact that more anti-Roma demonstrations were planned for several Czech towns over the weekend.

Politicians have pretended for so long not to be interested in the problem of minority coexistence with the majority that we now have a growing, spontaneous channel for the tensions between local citizens and minorities who are unwilling to live in an acceptable, correct relationship to the majority. Politicians have been focused on themselves for so long that a part of the majority has decided to express their opinions in this demonstrative way.

The Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe recently called on the government of the Czech Republic and its offices to finally do something about this anti-Romani sentiment.

As a Member of the European Parliament, I am familiar with these constantly repeated challenges. They usually come from countries that have enough problems of their own, and they are usually based, unfortunately, on tendentiously warped information provided by our own Czech "civic" groups, who love (God knows why) to ask foreign institutions to "establish" order in our country.  

This problem is a significant one. What is leading more and more normal citizens to take to the streets to warn their government and their politicians that they are intensely concerned for the protection of their civil rights? How is it possible that orderly, ordinary citizens are setting out in floods to demonstrate about the fact that "their" government, for years, has been unfairly supporting a minority that does very little to blend in with the surrounding majority environment? All of this is happening in a space where the media is permanently on the side of the minority.

It seems it is no longer possible to stick one's head in the sand and pretend this will all work itself out somehow. I am concerned that these intensifying anti-Roma demonstrations are the result of normal people's radicalizing desperation, which is pushing ordinary citizens to demonstrate against "their own" state. They are demonstrating against institutions that tolerate a state of affairs in which the majority society has long been left without aid and protection against groups of aggressive assailants from the ranks of the minority, a state of affairs in which tendentious media bias is accepted.  

This is a situation in which ultimately "their" state uses the police force against them just for calling for a solution to these long-unresolved problems. They are demonstrating that this is unsustainable in order to defend their civil rights. Against the background of the currently unpredictable political situation in the Czech lands, this is highly explosive.

Lastly, how easy it is, in such a disruptive atmosphere, to hunt for radicals. How easy it is to add fuel to the fire of revolutionary sentiments. How easy is it to abuse this natural, civic sense of justice and what is right to benefit street brawlers and fighters.

Czech politicians have behaved shamefully for years, irrespective of who has been in government, in their relationship with the silent, taxpaying majority. No, Czechs are not more racist or xenophobic (i.e., hating of foreigners) than the citizens of the other countries around us.

I am sure that any of us would be able to live an orderly, peaceful life on the same floor as any Romani family that normally gets up in the morning to go to work, that sends their children to school as a matter of course, and that pays their bills and fulfills their obligations as is customary. 

Does my commentary today seem too acrimonious, or too open? I don't want to be politically correct and hypocritical when the proverbial last straw has broken the camel's back. 

If a democratic politician does not openly call this problem by the right name, then who will, and with what consequences?

ryz, Lenka Kohoutová, Ivo Strejček, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Tags:  

Demonstrace, ODS, Sociální, Sociální dávky, Sociální vyloučení, Soužití, protiromský pochod, Commentary, Council of Europe, Czech republic, Extremism, opinions, Populism, Racism, Roma, Xenophobia



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