Czech sociologist refutes President's allegations about Romani unemployment, agrees with ROMEA
Czech President Miloš Zeman has doubled down on his insinuations about Romani people not working when responding to the hundreds of photographs posted to Facebook by Romani people showing themselves on the job. Speaking on Friday, he called the photos an initiative by just "one-tenth" of the country's Romani population.
"On the basis of my visits to the so-called excluded localities, I have arrived at the opinion, communicated to me by mayors and other local representatives, that 90 % of Romani residents of such areas do not work. I am glad to have received photographs of the 10 % who do work, thanks for those," Zeman said.
The ROMEA organization has responded, accusing the President of manipulating public opinion once again. "In the Czech Republic, there are an estimated 150 000 economically active Romani people. Among the socially excluded, 75 000 are economically active. If we were to use the most recent figures from the year 2015, then about 50 000 Romani people living in those localities are jobless. That means 70 % of the Romani people in the country do work for a living," Monika Mihaličková of ROMEA said in response to Zeman's most recent allegations.
According to other critics, Zeman's remarks about Romani unemployment crossed the line into racism. Zeman's estimate of 10 % of Romani people employed in the Czech Republic is based just on statistics reflecting the most socially excluded areas of the country.
"In the Czech Republic, half of the Romani population lives in excluded localities where unemployment is certainly higher than it is in the rest of the country. However, a proportion of 10 % employed vs. 90 % unemployed, as Miloš Zeman alleges, is definitely not the case there," the sociologist Daniel Prokop said in an interview for news server Lidovky.cz.
When asked to what degree Zeman's remarks are based on research and statistics, Prokop said: "There has not been much research on this subject, because it is complicated to undertake. I base my understanding on three sources: One is MIDIS research surveying Romani minority members in different European states in 2014. From that research it indirectly follows that the proportion of employed to unemployed Roma is roughly 1:1. If we add in those who work under the table, or who work occasionally, then the number of Romani people working will certainly exceed one-half. Moreover, that data is more than two years old and employment rates are even higher today. So the expert estimate of the proportion of unemployed Romani people ranges from between 25 % to 40 %."
Prokop was asked what might aid with addressing Romani people's higher unemployment in excluded localities and how the public might contribute to that effort. "This has to do, for example, with debt relief reform, which would significantly assist labor activity. Preschool education is also an important factor. From our research it can be seen that a child who attends preschool later achieves better results in school and has a higher chance of finding employment. On the other hand, however, that brings us back to the willingness of the majority society to address this, the distance between the majority and this specific minority. We can naturally be critical of socially excluded groups, but it is necessary to acknowledge what kind of motivation we are giving them to behave as they do. A Romani person in particular is frequently judged not according to his or her individual skills, but by his or her ethnicity. For example, the average Czech person who completes secondary school has a much greater earning potential than a Romani person with the same education does. The Romani person knows that he or she will be judged according to his or her origin no matter what. That is the biggest problem of racism - it blocks individual motivation," the sociologist said.
The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) has sharply criticized Zeman for his remarks. In their view, his statements are racist, are contributing to inciting fear and hatred, could endanger Romani people's safety, and Zeman should resign as head of state for having decided to use such rhetoric.
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