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Edita Stejskalová on resigning as a volunteer civil society member of the Czech Govt Roma Council: We should advise ministers, not lower-level officials

9.12.2020 11:13
Edita Stejskalová (PHOTO:  Still from the documentary film Europe:  Which Children Matter?)
Edita Stejskalová (PHOTO: Still from the documentary film Europe: Which Children Matter?)

Edita Stejskalová is resigning from her position as a volunteer civil society member of the Czech Government Council for Roma Minority Affairs. Her fellow civil society member Petr Torák has already resigned, while Jan Husák has stepped down from his post as civil vice-chair. 

Husák plans to resign once negotiations on the new Roma Integration Strategy for the next 10 years are completed. According to Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Helena Válková, it was the process of preparing the Strategy that has caused these most recent resignations. 

Stejskalová has not yet formally resigned, but has announced her intended departure to Válková. News server Romea.cz asked why she is resigning and is publishing her answer here in full.

STATEMENT BY EDITA STEJSKALOVÁ ON HER RESIGNATION FROM THE CZECH GOVERNMENT COUNCIL FOR ROMA MINORITY AFFAIRS

After five years of work on the Council I am reviewing what I have done there, and my conclusion is that I have done an honest job. I believe I have been constructive and to the point.   

There are many things I have done well in this role. Five years ago, for example, I raised the subject of racially-motivated bullying in the schools.

That issue was then taken up by the Chamber of Deputies' Committee for Science, Culture, Education, Youth and Sport as a crucial subject. I communicated that racial discrimination or racial hatred in schools, whether committed by children or teachers, is actually very stressful and influences the educational careers and success of Romani children.  

That this is so was confirmed by field research I had conducted in 2008 through the Zvůle práva organization, and I used that data in my arguments and received a positive response both from the Education Ministry and from the Committee for Education, which developed the subject further. A methodological handbook was then published for teachers featuring terms such as "ethnic intolerance" or "racial hatred" and describing what that looks like in the schools. 

I was very glad about that result. The subject was also discussed by the National Institute for Education, which I considered quite important. 

I appealed to the Czech School Inspectorate to investigate this phenomenon and to research it directly in the schools. That was my first contribution as part of my work on the Council. 

In February 2019 I assessed the Roma Integration Strategy that has been in effect through 2020, including the tasks the Governments were obligated to fulfill, according to the resolution, within the framework of integration policies. I came to the unequivocal conclusion that the Strategy is not effective and must be revised, along with the tasks the ministries set themselves with respect to integrating Romani people. 

The current tasks are rather soft and no significant progress has been made. This brings us to what is crucial, the creation of the Committee for Fulfilling the Roma Integration Strategy, which is basically a Committee that is meant to follow all strategic documents from a broader perspective that are adopted by the Czech Republic, or its Government. 

I drew attention to the fact that within the ministries themselves, these strategic documents are not being interconnected, and the issue of social inclusion, or of increasing Romani people's exercise of their civil rights is, on the contrary, being very strongly suppressed as long as the measures proposed for the inclusion or integration of Roma are based in the perspective that if we just resolve social problems, some kind of equality will result. That same old perspective has applied here from 1997 until this very day. 

It is clear that addressing social problems is not enough, and that this must actually be connected to Romani people exercising their civil rights and their national minority rights. This cannot just be addressed from the perspective of Romani people exercising their social rights. 

For example, Romani unemployment remains high, access by Romani children to education on the basis of inclusive measures has changed by just 1.5 % during the last six years after the representation of Romani children in the "special schools" was reduced - and I could continue, for example, with examples from the area of access to housing. Romani people in the Czech Republic have been and still are being concentrated into certain localities and are not being given the room in which to normally function. 

Even those Romani families who, under normal circumstances, would get an opportunity and would function in an absolutely normal way are no longer being given that room. That is why I believe the Committee for Fulfilling the Romani Integration Strategy is one of the most important committees and should monitor not just the adopted measures for the 2021-2030 timeframe, but should use its mechanisms for controlling and evaluating the Strategy itself. 

The Committee should also make recommendations for how to revise and transform the Strategy. Here the crucial question arises as to what the definitive Strategy for the next 10 years will look like and what the tasks for the Government of the Czech Republic and its ministries will look like.

Which proposals will make it through the next interministerial commenting procedure? Whether those measures fulfill their purpose is a second basic question, for me. 

Again, there is currently a very strong accent on the social problem instead of on the human rights problem, which is not exactly fortunate. I personally am in favor of using liberal, very strongly pro-democratic rhetoric in the materials dedicated to the integration of Roma. 

I am an advocate of the European vocabulary that has yet to be mastered here, and not just by the Romani civil society sector, but also by Government bureaucrats. People here will never know how to deal with the phenomenon of antigypsyism, how to explain its causes in their own words, without perceiving the context of the discourse in the rest of Europe. 

Last year I spoke to a ROMEA TV program about the fact that there must be more Romani participation in preparing the new Strategy. The communications strategy adopted for explaining why participation by Romani people should be increased in this process has been one of economic pressure, because the Strategy is a thematic condition for the country to draw on EU funds. 

That approach has proven very effective and was supported both by members of the Council and by the broader Romani nonprofit sector. Romani participation in preparing the Strategy for 2021-2030 has been more visible, compared to the previous degree of Romani participation, and it has been systematic. 

I assess all of this as part of the very good-quality work that I have done for the Council. When I look back on this time a year from now, I will be able to say that I was not just a passive Council member, and that I enjoyed many successes before leaving. 

For example, for the last three years I have also advocated for the creation of the position of a Czech Government Commissioner for Romani Affairs. The creation of that position has been anchored in the new Strategy. 

I am glad that I ultimately managed to negotiate support for this position across the ministries with the aid of Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Helena Válková, and I believe that measure will be fulfilled. Similarly, I have also advocated for the Czech Republic to make use of Article 4, specific aim VIII a), of the agreement on partnership between the Czech Republic and European Union, to combat discrimination of marginalized communities such as Romani people and to support their socioeconomic integration. 

This matter is quite crucial to the design of the tenders announced during the next budget period. If that condition manages to be fulfilled, then that will actually be a significant deed with respect to the Strategy and I will be glad to have contributed to it through my work. 

I have never believed that being a member of an advisory body is a lifelong matter, and I would not be glad if membership were seen that way. I believe that after five years I must structure my time better and realize what is even possible to achieve within the framework of an advisory body. 

I think that as a Council member I have exhausted all the opportunities available and it is necessary that I try different platforms, and one needs more time to do that. My volunteer work on the Council took me at least 20 hours a week to complete. 

I was also briefly employed to work for the Council half-time. I believe I have actually done all I could as a member to advocate for good ideas. 

I also do believe my advocacy has succeeded. At the same time, I also learned many things.

I was able to test the proposition that if you have a plan, a vision, and values, then you can advocate for anything, but currently it is important to also do such advocacy politically. This work is about political commitment. 

We cannot just perceive the Strategy as a formal condition for drawing on EU funds, because those funds will only be here for a limited time. My idea is that an unequivocal political commitment to Roma must exist. 

That political will must be demonstrated by actually fulfilling the measures adopted. The tasks chosen must actually be effective and feasible.

The human rights level must be accented, because Romani people are very limited in their exercise of their civil rights. This does not mean I am alleging there is no room here whatsoever for equal opportunity. 

All of the Czech Government's documents declare that there is equal opportunity. The problem is in how citizens actually access that opportunity.

That is where our paths part ways, and one cannot do much about that as a Council member, or from the position of an advisory body. This problem is quite enormous and persistent, and the powers of the Council, defined by its statutes, are small. 

This can best be seen in how the Government receives the recommendations made by its own Council for Roma Minority Affairs. It is really no longer possible to keep holding these negotiations at the level of mere discussions between the bureaucrats working for the Office of the Council and the volunteer civil society members of the Council, the negotiations must be elevated to the level of the ministers who have executive power. 

The ministers are the ones who say what the Government will and will not implement. The problem is that the Strategy places too little of an accent on the Government's and the Prime Minister's political commitments. 

In my opinion, these commitments cannot just be about measures financed from the EU Structural Funds, which are limited in time. Today the Czech Republic is economically well off, we are among the wealthier states in the European Union, and the allocations of EU funding within the framework of some of the operational programmes here will be reflecting that, such as the allocations to Operational Programme Employment or the Jan Amos Comenius Operational Programme of the Education Ministry.

We must aim for Roma integration policy to be financed from the state's own budget and for it to be a priority embodied by the Government's program declaration. If we achieve that, it will be a success. 

Combating antigypsyism must be at the center, supporting the emancipation of Romani people, supporting Roma with espousing their nationality. If the way in which politicians communicate the problem of discrimination or segregation never changes, then not much will be achieved. 

It is necessary to ensure institutionally the way in which the Strategy will be fulfilled. I have done all that I could for those three points, my work was done well, and I have concrete results to show for it. 

I actually undertook a strategy that was rational, to the point, and constructive. My strategy has proven effective, and I will be glad if that way of thinking were to remain part of the Council even after I am no longer there.

I have not yet officially given notice of my resignation. I plan to submit my proposal for the next civil vice-chair of the Council, and then I will officially resign.

vhl, ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Aktivismus, Rada vlády pro záležitosti romské menšiny, Strategie, Vláda



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