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Governor of Czech region: Involving Romani personalities in integration would get results

Czech Republic, 19.9.2012 2:37, (ROMEA)

This article continues our series of question and answer sessions with leading candidates from various political parties and groups running in the upcoming elections for Regional Authorities in the Czech Republic. We asked the candidates for their opinions on the integration of the Romani minority and how they would achieve improvements in this area. We were primarily interested in whether they would be calling upon Romani personalities to collaborate with them, as well as in their positions on education, housing and unemployment levels among people living in socially excluded localities, Romani people included. We also asked whether they intend to achieve calmer co-existence between majority-society and minority people. .

In the Karlovy Vary region, we sent questionnaires to the following politicians:

Jaroslav Borka – KSČM (Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia)

Josef Hora – Hnutí nezávislých pro harmonický rozvoj měst a obcí (Independents' Movement for the Harmonious Development of Towns and Villages)

Jan Horník – TOP 09 a Starostové pro Karlovarský kraj (TOP 09 and Mayors for Karlovy Vary Region)

Josef Novotný - ČSSD (Czech Social Democratic Party)

Marek Poledníček – Koalice pro Karlovarský kraj - KKvK (Coalition for Karlovy Vary Region)

Petr Šindelář – ODS (Civic Democratic Party)

Only Jan Horník and Josef Novotný responded to our questions. The first to respond was Czech Senator Jan Horník, who is also a council member of the Karlovy Vary Regional Authority. Today our questions were answered by the Governor of the Karlovy Vary Region, Josef Novotný (ČSSD).

1. The integration of Romani people in the Czech Republic has so far mostly been conceived of as a one-way affair. Very few decision-makers ask Romani people for their opinions. On the other hand, Romani people themselves often are unfamiliar with the opinions of the majority society and with proposals for political solutions to this issue because no one ever consults them. Would you try to change this through supporting the participation of local Romani representatives?

Options given for response:

If yes - what would this inclusion look like in practice?

a) Would you seek to have Romani people listened to during joint meetings?

b) Would you ever have an outstanding Romani personality as an adviser?

c) Would you involve more Romani personalities in the design and implementation of integration measures?

If there would be interest on the part of Romani associations or individuals in our region to meet together and constructively discuss the integration of Romani people in the Czech Republic. I will be very glad to have their voices heard. I do not have a Romani personality as an adviser, but I know that at the elementary schools in Sokolov, for example, Romani personalities work as advisers on the integration of Romani pupils, which makes it possible for the schools to better respond to the needs of Romani children. It definitely would have concrete results if more Romani personalities were to get involved in addressing integration and bringing joint proposals into practice.

If NO – what would your integration approach look like?

a) Would you proceed through repressive proposals, such as conditioning the disbursal of welfare on the fulfillment of certain conditions, or banning residency on municipal territory for those who repeatedly commit misdemeanors? What concrete measures would you advocate?

b) Would you proceed through motivational measures, such as paying long-term unemployed persons to work for NGOs, towns and villages? What concrete measures would you advocate?

c) Would you combine these approaches? How, specifically?

In these matters, the Karlovy Vary Region has supported and financed concrete projects. It is clearly obvious that we are doing our best to address the situations of socially excluded persons, including Romani people, before tensions here escalate as they have in the Šluknov foothills. A total of CZK 1.5 million has been provided by the region to eight towns and villages to support community service. Thanks to these monies, mayors can purchase tools and protective gear for unemployed people performing community service work. This primarily concerns communities in socially excluded localities such as Nové Sedlo, Rotava, and Toužim, for example.

These people take care of cleaning up public spaces, children's playgrounds, and maintaining municipally-owned housing. The unemployed are not paid for this community service, but if they refuse to perform it or fail to perform it, they could lose their unemployment benefits for up to nine months.

The region has also succeeded in getting a grant of CZK 23.8 million for its own individual project, “Support for the social inclusion of socially excluded localities in the Karlovy Vary Region". Part of this project involved field social workers mapping the situation in socially excluded localities at the start of July. They are in contact with people who need help getting out of situations in which they are at risk of social exclusion.

2. How would you proceed in addressing the long-term unemployment of people living in socially excluded localities and other poor people, including Romani people living in those localities?

I have described the specific solution of the Karlovy Vary Region above. In general, there is a need to create new jobs, and as far as unemployment goes, to be in communication with the Labor Office, employers, and employment agencies, which must be offered motivations such as tax breaks. The state must pay attention to supporting public benefit work, community service, social enterprises, and taking advantage of, for example, the legal obligation to dedicate 10 % of all public tenders, both municipal and state tenders, to social exclusion.

We are planning to take advantage of the opportunity to employ socially excluded people, Romani people included, through regionally funded organizations, e.g., to perform the clearance of invasive plant species in the forests and to clean up afterward. There is a need to expand the trend in employing Romani people as assistants to the Czech Police or as teaching assistants. Last but not least, a media campaign is needed, basically to constantly explain to the majority the need to address the situation of Romani unemployment and the advantages of addressing it.

3. How would you approach resolving the housing of the very poorest people, including Romani people, living in socially excluded localities?

By advocating for social housing financed from multiple sources – the European Social Fund, the Regional Development Ministry, municipal and regional budgets. There is also a need to support a social housing model that includes training housing, transparent housing, stopgap housing, guaranteed housing, and crisis accommodations. Examples of good practice have been tested, such as, for example, introducing concepts such as concierges, settlement committees, and participation in public affairs. In the Toužim district of our region, the Český Západ civic association works at the site of the Dobrá Voda settlement with its Romani population. Romani citizens there participate directly in public affairs - they work on improving the community, they produce and sell their own products, and they organize cultural events.

What is essential is the initiation of sufficient capacities of available social housing, with the motivational element of transparency such that there is always the option of achieving a better degree of housing conditions. It is necessary to help with the statewide problem of loansharking, which leads to the loss of housing, to address the situation in the municipally-owned residential hotels, and to address the public care of citizens who need drop-in assistance. We are also doing our best to draw the attention of social workers who focus on socially excluded localities to the opportunities for subsidies offered by the Czech Regional Development Ministry.

4. Would you like to increase educational achievement among the poorest people, including Romani people living in socially excluded localities?

Inclusive education and learning are, in addition to employment, priorities of our integration efforts. The Karlovy Vary Region, for example, focused last year on supporting a project that prepared Romani children to study at high schools, but unfortunately, the project was never completed. In 2010 we started contributing to projects in the area of crime prevention and we did our best to take advantage of, for example, recreation for children at drop-in clubs where field social workers are available, as well as events that support activities in which both majority and minority people participate.

Community work, such as that done by Český Západ, also gets results by augmenting education and tutoring adults. There is a need to teach financial literacy in the schools, and this is slowly starting to happen, but it is more or less at the initiative of individual teachers. The Education Ministry has not yet introduced it as a systematic component of the curriculum.

5. How would you like to achieve a better, calmer coexistence between majority-society people and minorities, primarily the Romani minority?

Options given for response:

a) Would you like majority and minority people to start communicating with one another more often? If yes - how specifically would you like to achieve this?

b) Through increased outreach and social work activities among poor people, primarily Romani ones? What would that look like in practice?

c) By forcing these people to obey the rules "through force"? How, specifically?

d) A combination of the above, or some other way? How, specifically?

I consider communication to be the basic tool for improving coexistence with minorities, primarily with Romani residents. The Karlovy Vary Region marks National Minorities Day every year, and minority representatives meet with other people on that day. Minority representatives have the opportunity to participate in a traditional photography competition, through which they show the public the events in which they have participated. This lets the majority learn more about the minorities' activities.

The basic solution to the problem in communication and the inclusion of the socially most deprived Romani people lies in the need to get their children into school and to keep them in the education system. There is a need for them to understand that schools offer not just education, and therefore the opportunity to get a job later in life and avoid the risk of social exclusion, but also that schools make it possible for children to get used to what is customarily expected of them, to acquire a regimen. The role of social workers is irreplaceable here. Organizations providing field social work and the Romani community itself should support role models from their own ranks who have achieved higher educations, they should do their best to make visible Romani people who have managed to earn recognition in a certain field at regional or state level. Under no circumstances has anyone ever achieved positive results through "force", and that doesn't just apply to Romani people in particular - using "force" to get people to abide by the rules usually has no effect at all.

František Kostlán, Gwendolyn Albert, Zdeněk Ryšavý, František Kostlán, Zdeněk Ryšavý, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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