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May 23, 2022



Drahomír R. Horváth: Roma in the Czech Republic are a gold mine

11.6.2015 22:47
Drahomír Radek Horváth (center) with Czech Human Rights Minister Jiří Dienstbier (right) in 2014. (PHOTO:  František Bikár)
Drahomír Radek Horváth (center) with Czech Human Rights Minister Jiří Dienstbier (right) in 2014. (PHOTO: František Bikár)

First of all, I would not be glad if the impression were to be given that in the Czech Republic, Romani people are socially excluded in general, or that our/their integration into society concerns the entire national minority who are citizens here. Many of us Roma are integrated into society, many of us Roma do not feel that society does not include us.

Therefore, when I use phrases in my blog like "Romani integration" or "social inclusion of Roma", be aware that I am not speaking generally and please, take what I say in that light. Thank you.

On the other hand, all of the citizens in this country sense that there is actually such a problem here, and that we must finally begin to solve it. We should not address this in such a way that its resolution will take as long as possible, or so that an army of graduates from social studies departments and other experts can make a living from it - we should resolve it efficiently, irrespective of the popularity of the necessary measures.

Twenty-five years of useless papers

If I were to somehow objectively evaluate the modern history of our state during its 25 years of existence with respect to its approach to Romani issues, the heat of my despondency and skepticism would not leave me much of a polite vocabulary to work with. I am sitting here at the keyboard fully aware that I would most probably, with this feeling, only manage to put together an entire dictionary of vulgarities, but I would not be able to sweat out anything positive to say.  

I actually do not see anything, in all of the stuff that has been produced, that I might call a good solution, a step in the right direction, a way out of the situation, etc. Understandably, that does not mean that nothing has been done about these matters.

On the contrary, a great deal has been done. A great deal that has been ineffective, overpriced, and useless, and much of it has been described in annual reports (paper will take a lot, and the creators of those annual reports are true masters at describing their own successes).

Regularly, at certain intervals, new Romani Integration Concepts are produced here. We now have a Romani Integration Strategy.

We also have a Strategy for Combating Social Exclusion. We also have the Decade of Roma Inclusion.

We even have our own Inter-ministerial Commission for Roma Community Affairs - the other national minorities are not as lucky, they have to make do with the Czech Government Council on National Minorities (and there, too, we Roma are represented with very little result). I could go on, pulling more and more examples from my sleeve of how, in recent years, the state was supposed to become the instrument for resolving this problem - and by the way, the Government of the Czech Republic, through the above-mentioned resolutions and many documents not mentioned here, has always sanctified all of this, most probably in the anticipation of a brighter tomorrow.  

Romophile novices have not improved the situation over the last 10 years

Not quite 10 years ago, thanks to GAC and its analysis, commissioned for the needs of the Czech Labor and Social Affairs Ministry, we learned how very dramatic this all actually is. The year 2006 was the year when the topic of socially excluded Romani localities began to be reviewed in-depth in public.  

That survey showed that here in our country we had 300 socially excluded Romani localities (Romani ghettoes) whose occupants number in the tens of thousands, where unemployment is 80 % and higher, and where we can raise our flag and thank God if local children manage to complete primary school at least. In recent years an army of social workers from non-governmental, non-profit organizations has invaded those localities to begin solving these problems, and the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion in Roma Localities was created, which also started addressing them.

There was some debate, and measures were implemented to deal with the problem-solvers' own finances. Every investigator of such issues wants to be paid for his work (he isn't paid per completed task, he would die of hunger that way, but he is paid by the hour, and understandably, he is paid generously enough, given that he has a Bachelor's degree in social work).

Money was allocated by the Czech Goverment, the EU funds, the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry issued a few open tenders for good measure, grants were applied for, subsidies were applied for, and millions of crowns took flight. For almost 10 years, an analyzed and clearly-defined problem has been addressed here.

In its totality, there is big money involved in solving this problem. After all these years, and the number of supported projects, one might think these billions of crowns had been spent where they should be and that their expenditure would produce a result.  

Now, roughly 10 years later, a new analysis regarding socially excluded Romani localities has been produced, and after the drawing of these billions for subsidies to implement projects guaranteeing Romani integration and the resolution of their social exclusion, something incomprehensible has happened. All of these experts on this issue, all of these graduates of social studies departments, all of these enthusiasts, all of these Romophile novices with their good-hearted smiles, have simply not resolved the situation (sure, it's a long-range endeavor), nor have they improved it (certainly, there have been many obstacles and the atmosphere in society was not conducive to its successful resolution) - and they haven't even kept those original bad numbers from rising higher (indeed, what has prevailed here have been these hitherto very unusual abuses such as "trafficking in poverty", and discrimination abounds).  

In the socially excluded Romani localities, compared to the original 80 000 people in 2006 we now, in the year 2015 have 110 000 people. This effort has not been a way out of the ghettos - it has meant the arrival to the ghettos of another 30 000 occupants.

Of those original 300 socially excluded Romani localities, 10 years later (years of hard work to integrate Romani people in our country) we have now produced a total of 600 such places. What has happened here is inconceivable to someone with healthy common sense, but undoubtedly some expert in social inclusion - for example, from the People in Need organization - will explain it in a single paragraph and most probably convince many people of his "truth".

Why do I mention People in Need? Well, because they publicly announce that they have been working with the occupants of socially excluded localities through their Social Prevention Programs (PSI) since 2006.

Currently PSI staffers operate in 60 towns throughout the Czech Republic. Their entire team consists of around 200 employees including advisers, coordinators, educational staffers and field social workers.

The socially excluded Romani localities, wonder of wonders, have not decreased at all since 2006, advisers and coordinators notwithstanding. Their number has, on the contrary, doubled, irrespective of the hard work of the People in Need teams.    

I am understandably aware that the director of these PSI teams, Jan Černý, would explain to me in just one paragraph how much in error I am. In fact, I don't even want to count how much has been pumped into all of this - into all of the municipalities (for they happily apply for grants with an interest in Romani integration as well), all of the organizations, all of the projects - between 2006 and 2015 from the European Social Fund, the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry, and the grants and subsides from other sources as well.  

It must be billions, there is no doubt about that. For all of those billions, what has been achieved is a deterioration compared to the initial state of affairs?

Is this normal? I don't want to claim that all of the non-governmental, non-profit organizations focusing on the integration of Romani people and social inclusion are worthless, or that their activities are actually inefficient, or that they are only following their own interest - I know of at least two that are effective, that are actually concerned with achieving a positive change in the situation, and that are up to snuff.

Romani elites have failed - in 25 years they have not managed to improve the position of the most impoverished Roma

I don't want to just criticize everyone else. Romani people themselves, as a static object and target of this social engineering, have a lot to answer for.

Those of us who have the capabilities and especially the opportunities to do something for the general welfare of our community have a moral obligation to do so. Those who can must concentrate on the most impoverished, on those most in need, those who expect this from them because they believe they can organize positive change.

The competent Romani people with these opportunities, however, have absolutely failed. Such individuals are either becoming or already have become collaborators with the system, and their token presence in a warm little job provides an alibi to those who don't actually want to resolve anything.

Either that, or such people have banded together, only to immediately seek to cooperate with state institutions, announcing as much in their first public statements so the Czech News Agency can reap the rewards. There has never been any extra-fruitful, long-term cooperation with the state, though.  

If there has been, and if such cooperation has been effective, if it has been key, in the long run, for the state institutions involved, then that's super. I'm afraid that if it does exist, then it has been kept a total secret, because it is not publicly known and the Czech News Agency doesn't write about it.

Whenever such outfits of Romani elites and thinkers have sprung up, however (here in Brno, there in Prague, also in Svinošice), the path has been primed for them and they have radiated self-confidence. Whether these have been the Young Roma (their name) with their Crisis Committee, or the 50 Romani men, most of them of mature age (quoting literally from their statement), etc., these groups have always had and still have something in common.  

There is always an obvious interest in them from the media - they cause a certain sensation, but only at the start. After that, there is never any mention of their activity, never any mention of any subsequent successes of their cooperation in addressing (or even resolving) the situation.  

The media is silent about what follows, and the conclusion is drawn that these bubbles have burst before they could even reach full size. Why these groups of obviously intelligent, most probably educated Romani people don't focus on working directly with their tribesmen in the localities, why they don't begin aiding those most in need directly, with the contribution of their own capacities - this is incomprehensible to me.  

These Roma elites have not worked and are not working on the social uplift of impoverished Roma. They are not disseminating the idea of emancipation inside the community, among the impoverished, ordinary Roma.

These elites do not grasp emancipation as an historical, societal phenomenon of liberating themselves from a position of inequality. They want to be emancipated by the very society where they feel oppressed.

How paradoxical and stupid does that sound? It is, but the fact is that the absolute majority of these elites have wanted to be and still want to be just the main partner for dialogue, and the best would be a dialogue with the Government of the Czech Republic.

These people do not understand that without the massive effort and striving of most Romani people for emancipation, all this society can provide is equality on an individual basis. That kind of equality has actually been handled here rather well.

It is, therefore, incomprehensible what those at the top level of the dialogue with state institutions (again, best of all with the Government) even intend to do for the good of the nation in order to raise our communities up. That means the elite of the Romani nation, associated in the groups I have mentioned, with all their activities, the results of which are unknown, are making an impression that is bland, dry, sexless and toothless.  

The incompetence of our Romani wise men to become effectively involved in resolving this situation over the last 25 years and to improve, through their own assiduousness, the position of the most destitute and impoverished Romani people vegetating in the socially excluded localities has now been thoroughly attested. I am really looking forward to what the situation will be with this ethno-business 10 years from now.    

Drahomír Radek Horváth, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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