Czech sociologist hopes "war of nerves" before elections does not result in violence
In the context of the upcoming early elections, increased activity by the right-wing extremist DSSS party and the exploitation of Romani-related issues can be expected in the Czech Republic. The series of organized anti-Roma demonstrations in recent weeks has made it clear how DSSS chair Tomáš Vandas and his promoters will most likely behave going forward.
The following is an interview conducted by news server Romea.cz with sociologist Ivan Gabal, the founder of Ivan Gabal Analysis & Consulting (in 1994) and the GAC company (in 2003), both of which are involved in analysis, policy design and research. Gabal was the creator of the first comprehensive map of socially excluded localities in the Czech Republic and has also focused on the segregation of children in the Czech schools and its impact on their ability to assert themselves in society as adults.
Q: You warned of the growth in socially excluded localities before it even happened, primarily because of the dangers they pose and the problems they create. Are these localities and the problems connected to them what really lies behind today's anti-Romani sentiment and the perception of Romani people as a parasitic minority here?
A: In part, yes, this is a long-unresolved problem. However, in České Budějovice, for example, that sentiment wasn't about an excluded locality, but about growing social tension which the town hall wasn't paying enough attention to and didn't even know about. However, the main motivation behind this sentiment is an effort to escalate this problem politically so it can be capitalized on during the elections.
Q: You have repeatedly reflected in your blog on the reasons for and the risks associated with extremist invective, not only from right-wing extremists who are linked to neo-Nazism, but also from politicians who are populist extremists. What role does each of these aspects play in this deteriorating situation when it comes to presenting the topic of majority-minority coexistence to the general public?
A: I think the primary responsibility lies with the previous governing coalition, which failed to act to solve this whole problem in such a way that the public would be able to see a clear integration effort both from the institutional actors responsible and from the residents of the excluded localities. Neither effort is very visible.
Q: What, in your view, are the real problems behind this state of affairs and who can contribute genuinely nonviolent, pragmatic solutions to it?
A: I think this is a clear task for the next government, which must synergize the robust modernization of the Moravian-Silesian Region and the Ústí Region in particular so that everybody in those regions really feels it, not just the residents of excluded localities. The cabinet up until now has just produced a lot of alibis for its inaction. The ministries of education, regional development, and social affairs in particular, as well as the Regional Authorities, have not yet developed a longer-term strategy, and we are continuing to allow trafficking in poverty, both in the form of the video poker terminals permitted by the Finance Ministry and in the form of speculation in rents. Many economic freeloaders are "hooked" on the existence of excluded localities. It is a fact that Romani people themselves are both the victims of these circumstances and active co-participants in them (naturally, only some of them).
Q: Why are most of the "decent" politicians and "moral authorities" of the nation silent about this?
A: Most of them don't have the slightest idea what to do, and some are afraid of an angry public, including those at the highest levels. Fear and incompetence are the reason.
Q: What can the Romani minority and its representatives do in this matter? Can a united process even be expected from them? After all, this is a minority whose members are of various sensibilities, who vote for various parties or who don't vote at all, who are inclined to various different tendencies (like everyone else). Would a well-spoken personality engaging in this topic help? Do you see anyone like that in the Czech Republic and does it make sense to bind our hopes to such a person?
A: I do not anticipate that Romani people will proceed in a unified way, but if they do, they must clearly demand commitments to integration, to security, and to the tools needed for both. The passivity of Romani elites who are afraid to identify themselves with this problem is a manifestation of their own fear and fecklessness. I also don't see enough motivation or pressure for more Romani students to attend high school, even though stipends would probably be available to them. Nevertheless, I believe that this is all just a war of nerves prior to the upcoming elections, and I hope there will not be any violence.
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