Director of Czech Gov't agency says petition against "gypsies" to PM is really about real estate
Dissatisfied citizens living at the Janov housing estate in the town of Litvínov have sent a petition to the Czech Government calling for a rigorous solution to their problems - they claim it is no longer possible to live there because of the "gypsy minority terrorizing the majority". They have also expressed concern that a hard-hitting anti-Romani event similar to the ones that took place there in 2008, which they call a "small-scale civil war", could be repeated.
The petition has been signed by more than 1 500 people and according to its organizer, František Ryba, who chairs the Krušnohor apartment cooperative, more signatures are coming in. The petition has been signed by roughly one-third of the housing estate's occupants.
Business interests, not a civic position
According to the director of the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion, Martin Šimáček, the situation at Janov is not as critical as the petition makes it seem. "I know many people who live there, and they say the situation is nowhere near as exacerbated as it was in 2008. Primarily, they also say they would definitely never sign a petition organized by the chair of Krušnohor," he told news server Romea.cz.
Šimáček explains that Ryba is known for his antigypsyists and racist remarks. "He is constantly contributing to the creation of an atmosphere of confrontation and tension in which people who consider themselves members of the 'decent majority' begin to think they must strongly draw the line against the 'inadapatables', the 'indecent'," he said.
"I don't know why he does this, I can only speculate," the Agency director continued. "I do not read the fact that he is organizing this petition to be a manifestation of his civic engagement, but a show of his business interests." Those business interests could consist, for example, of an effort to reduce the capacity of the overcrowded housing estate.
What is the solution?
Šimáček admits that the situation at Janov is serious. Several measures promoted by the Agency there have failed, primarily, a transitional housing system that was supposed to lead clients through various phases to ultimately acquiring normal, sustainable housing.
Some of the passages of the petition, however, Šimáček agrees with. "There actually are, for example, too few crime prevention assistants at the housing estate. Their work has been proven successful, as has running drop-in clubs for youth, for example. More money must be invested into such approaches," he said.
"Mainly, however, there is a general political solution available: The town must reqch an agreement with the private owners of the apartment buildings about what they want to do with the housing estate, how they would like to develop and manage it," Šimáček said. "Even now that it has sold all of the apartments it used to own at the housing estate to private landlords, the town cannot just wash its hands of these problems. As far as Litvínov is concerned, I am rather optimistic, because the town leadership is doing its best to resolve these matters."
Litvínov's leaders have not adopted an official stance on the petition. Nevertheless, Mayor Kamila Bláhová (ANO) considers it useful, as she told news server iDNES.cz: "Naturally we welcome any activity drawing attention to this problem. We know the locality is problematic."
Such a remark does not necessarily mean that the mayor agrees with the actions of Ryba or the wording of his petition. Rather, she could be saying that from a local government perspective it is important to warn the state that town does not have enough money to manage the situation long-term.
There are many factors at play here: The completely real problems of life in a decaying housing estate, partially occupied by desperate people whom others fear and do not know what to do about, are developing against a background of closed-mindedness, distrust of the political process, a growing general uncertainty, the interests of the private owners of the apartment buildings, a lack of financing, ideas and vision, the legacy of "wild privatization", prejudices, racism, weak political will to address these issues, and the work of loan sharks and the mafia... It will definitely not be easy to find a solution.
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