Former Czech PM: National, regional govt responsible for problems in Šluknov
The following commentary by former Czech Prime Minister Jiří Paroubek was published in the Ústí regional editions of the daily Deník:
In the Šluknov foothills, a combination of many different factors over a long period of time has led to a situation, primarily in the area of crime, which is now producing alarm and unrest in some towns. These problems, long-unsolved by either the national or regional governments, now threaten to grow into serious clashes in which ordinary citizens start joining extremists of the neo-Nazi persuasion. This is alarming!
When I visited Šluknov district last week, the brief debate I engaged in with students at a high school made a strong impression on me. I was positively surprised to see a high proportion of young Romani students there. What surprised me even more was the high degree of solidarity the "white" schoolmates of these Romani fellow-citizens expressed for them.
On the other hand, I had a negative impression of the students' concerns for the future and the fear they spontaneously expressed. None of them wants the area where they live - and where they want to go on living - to become open territory for the maneuvers of neo-Nazis from abroad and from all over the republic, or a site of ethnic and social conflicts. We must now rely on the professionalism of the police officers whose presence is changing the situation on the streets of the towns in Šluknov district. Their presence primarily increases the security of all ordinary citizens.
There is no doubt whatsoever that it is possible to do a great deal to address this situation right now. The region should perform an audit of its social services expenditures and allocate funding to towns with high numbers of socially excluded places. They should look at whether towns in the east of Ústí Region are receiving subsidies that are comparable to those received by towns in the west. If not - and my concern is that they are not - that needs to be changed immediately. Matters should be arranged differently in next year's budget.
At this moment, the establishment of order in the streets and the role of the police are irreplaceable. However, it is primarily necessary to seek an appropriate way to heal this problem, and repression is not a long-term solution. The government must start with a regional policy that will first and foremost be a tool for eliminating the economic backwardness of micro-regions and the regions. For at least two years, if not longer, I have been warning of the need for massive investment of public resources into Ústí Region, primarily in Děčín district with its permanently high unemployment rate.
Billions of crowns must be invested into redevelopment of the former industrial properties and territory of Děčín district. After the environmental burden of those properties is eliminated, it will be possible to seek new investors, most of whom would be medium-sized domestic or foreign firms, to create new jobs there. Without fundamental, rapid investment into the network of roads in Děčín district and the region as a whole, it will not be possible to expect a large-scale influx of new investors there.
The republic is currently incapable of drawing on all the money available to it from the EU funds. There is a real danger that hundreds of billions of crowns from the EU financing prospects for 2007 -2013 won't even be touched.
The government should quickly negotiate with the European Commission regarding changes to the structure for drawing on this money in the Czech Republic. EU money should be redirected for the implementation of these completely urgent priorities.
When discussing EU financing prospects for 2014 - 2020, the government must not forget that expenditures on regional policy represent an essential priority. The cure will be neither cheap nor easy, and the correction of the current state of affairs will take many years. However, if we don't take that path, the situation will gradually escalate and could spread to other districts throughout the Czech Republic. The main thing is that this situation could repeat itself at any time.
Just as in the education of Romani youth, we are not discussing an immediate solution. The necessary changes in housing policy will also not be enforced or introduced into practice immediately. The government, the regional leadership, the municipal leadership, and the citizens must start changing their approach as quickly as possible.
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